The Garden of Evening Mists was short listed for the Man Booker Award. It is a glorious novel that takes place in war-torn Malaysia after the Japanese occupation which resulted in 100,000 deaths. It captures all the layers of PTSD and the power of traumatic experiences.
It is a marvel to me how this author knows the inner workings of trauma. He even gets the triggers for flashbacks right. I learned from my clients in 1980 when my sole focus for 3 1/2 years was the ravages of incest and there existed a conspiracy of silence all over the country.
This is what made the Sandusky secrecy so painful to me because it’s still an active part of our culture (and Gov.Corbett in starting a legal battle does not seem to understand that the sanctions are about the victims, not the money).
The story evolves, slowly layering the details of the life of Yun Ling who is a distinguished judge who retires and those she worked with are surprised to learn that she was a prisoner of war held by the Japanese in WW II. Like the victims at Penn State she kept her secrets for years.
Experiences are our most powerful teachers. Traumatic experiences are complicated with all kinds of feelings deeply etched on the soul. Shame & silence are often at the very core hardened by an outside layer of the most powerful anger which pushes too many others away.
Anger is important because anger is determined to prove “I DO MATTER”. Trauma is almost always about feeling erased. Anger is about feeling powerful after feeling impotent. Traumatic anger is all about the walls staying in place which is revealed in the depths of this story.
This kind of anger can last for years and leak out on the people you love the most because trauma is a big deal.
When the walls get stuck you can end up unconsciously maintaining your victim status because you prevent connections.
Dealing with trauma is important and Yun Ling silently stumbles around with it like most people do. Shame often adds an especially ugly twist that can keep the trauma & anger alive. “It’s my fault someone is dead” is one that few people live with & emotionally survive, whether it’s true or not.
Yun Ling unlocks her bitterness slowly over the years by learning about exquisite gardening from Aritomo, who was the emperor’s gardener before the war. The author Tan Twan Eng paints such a memorable world in this garden that I googled to see if I could visit one day even though I knew it was a work of fiction. I was still hoping to find it because it’s beauty was etched in my soul while reading.
Yun Ling heals slowly over time and learns to allow connectedness with the help of the Japanese gardener which ultimately is exactly what healing from trauma is about. I felt connected not only to Yun Ling, but to the 5 important members of the supporting cast of characters and to the country of Malaysia. What a gift to be alive & read this lyrical, lovely novel!
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