The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng
The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

A slow start (with LRB back issues providing stiff competition for my short attention span), but totally absorbing once I gave it my time and attention. And by the end, a few tears.

The Garden of Evening Mists is set in the Cameron Highlands, in Malaya / Malaysia across three time periods in the narrator’s life: the Japanese occupation, The Emergency, and the present day (actually early 1980s when I read the Wikipedia synopsis). We learn about the peninsula’s history and Japanese zen arts from gardening to wood block prints and tattooing.

And what a wonderfully alluring opening sentence:

On a mountain above the clouds, in the central highlands of Malaya lived the man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.

Publisher page: The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine

Granta 87: Jubilee - Various, Granta Magazine
Granta 87: Jubilee – Various, Granta Magazine

It may have been because I’ve been so immersed in moving, and with all the subsequent sorting out and settling in, that I found this volume of Granta essays and stories much slower going than Hidden Histories.

On the other hand, it might have been the weightier subject matter. I did skip a few of the accounts relating to 21st century atrocities.

That said, I did enjoy the pieces on Benjamin Pell and Bollywood.

An easy reading novel next, I think.

Publisher page: Granta 87: Jubilee – Granta Magazine

Granta 85: Hidden Histories – Granta Magazine

Granta 85: Hidden HistoriesMy 1000th review on SparklyTrainers, and my last book of 2019.

Just right for dipping in and out for bedtime reading on the lead up to our move to Herefordshire. I particularly liked the last essay, Giles Foden‘s White Men’s Boats, and the personal histories from Diana Athill and Brian Cathcart.

And I’ve just spotted the Giles Foden has written a full length version of the hidden history of the World War I British naval expedition to Lake Tanganyika, overland, led by the inept Geoffrey Spicer-Simson: Mimi and Toutou Go Forth.

Publisher page: Granta 85: Hidden Histories – Granta Magazine

Deadly Web – Barbara Nadel

Deadly Web - Barbara Nadel
Deadly Web – Barbara Nadel

Picked up in Frinton, Deadly Web reflects two of the key historical developments of the early years of the 21st century – the widespread availability of internet and the web, and the build up to the Iraq War – all the more interesting given the Istanbuli perspective.

The third theme is ceremonial magic and the line of witches and others with the sight in police Inspector Çetin İkmen’s own family.

Inspector Mehmet Suleyman’s personal life is a mess – his second wife has left him after he had to take an AIDS test having slept with a prostitute. And then he meets gypsy Gonca….

Publisher page: Deadly Web – Barbara Nadel

Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

Erebus: The Story of a Ship - Michael Palin
Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin

HMS Erebus is the British bomb ship that, alongside sister ship HMS Terror, took James Clark Ross and his crew on their three Antarctic Expeditions between 1839-1843, reaching further south than any other ship before, and the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in search of the North West Passage, which set sail for Greenland and the Arctic in 1845, never to be seen again.

The second part is inevitably more gripping than the first.

The wreck of the Erebus was found in 2014, that of Terror in 2016, and Michael Palin’s account starts with the discovery of the Erebus in  the shallow waters of Wilmot and Crampton Bay. Erebus is a leading character in this book alongside the Navy men, Establishment politicians and Empire men who led the scientific and commercial explorations, and expropriations, during the 19th Century.

(Although personally I could have done with out the regular refrain of “When I visited XYZ…”)

Author’s page: Erebus: The Story of a Ship – Michael Palin