The novel is indeed intelligently structured, and it presents, from personal experience, a wide portrait of the Japanese occupation and its consequences, especially in the microcosmos of the Cameron Highlands. Magnus and his family are very important characters, both for their relationship to Teoh and Aritomo and for their own story before, during and after the occupation. Magnus is a dominant character, both in the plot and in his environment, a persistent, successful and brave man who refuses to abandon Malaysia and his plantation, protects his workers and keeps his independence from the Japanese as well as from the Communist guerrillas devastating the territory after the war.
In contrast, Aritomo is a rather stereotypical character, the proverbial Oriental sage who imparts philosophical sentences, treats her pupil with a mix of rudeness and affection (think Mr. Miyagi), and keeps dangerous secrets. Teoh is a courageous woman in constant struggle with her ghosts and with her traumatic past, loyal and resolute, looking for a sense of direction in an unmerciful world.
The depictions of nature and of Yugiri garden are very beautiful, just as intense as the ones on the political and social situation. The novel does not offer easy solutions nor artificial explanations, but presents Teoh's story in all its crudeness and struggle for redemption. I think the narrative technique (certainly deprived of humor) works well, slowly and then quickly grasping the reader's attention, which in the latter part tends to focus on Aritomo's secret.
Just as you both, I didn't find it a masterpiece, but for me it was a worthy novel, one that gives me something of what I've been looking for in my recent quest to read previously unknown literatures: a sense of life, culture and history from the point of view of natives. I found it very interesting that characters in this story are forbidden the reading of Somerset Maugham's stories on Malaysia, surely because they present the point of view of a British subject.
: Reading over what I've said about TGOEM, I
: feel that I've been too hard on the novel.
: There are several things I admire. I think
: that the author managed three distinct time
: periods deftly. Within a paragraph or two
: (if not earlier), I consistently knew when a
: chapter took place.
: I must admit that the narrative pace and
: the dramatic tension picked up considerably
: in the second half. Indeed, the book seemed
: to speed up as it went along until the story
: was almost racing like a genre novel by the
: last few chapters.
: I thought it was clever to introduce an
: Afrikaner character who had been in the Boer
: War. This was when the British (the
: relative European "good guys" of
: the novel) committed atrocities such as a
: Scorched Earth policy and concentration
: camps. Although not gone into in depth,
: this helps balance the novel and keeps it
: from becoming simply a condemnation of
: Japanese war atrocities.
: I also felt that a connection was being made
: between the aesthetic beauty of the
: Japanese garden and the horrific Japanese
: atrocities. The connecting link may be
: perfectionism, as the connecting link
: between the great German cultural
: achievements and the Nazi atrocities may be
: I'm glad that Guillermo suggested this
: novel. While not my favorite, there is much
: to recommend it. I'm certain that I would
: never have found it on my own.
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