Wednesday, May 15, 2013

May 2013 Book Club Meeting

Next month, we will be reading THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng.This novel was nominated for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and it looks fabulous. I can't wait to read it!

Summary: It's Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambridge and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice 'until the monsoon comes'. Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day. But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery.

Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists? What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all? -- Weinstein Books

Last evening, my book club met to discuss THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS by Tan Twan Eng. My friend who selected this novel absolutely loved it, and I think it's safe to say that, while we probably weren't as enthusiastic as she was, we all appreciated this story. You can read more about my thoughts here.

I admit that it took us quite awhile to get around to discussing the book. We are all friends and some of us only see each other once a month at our book club meetings. Needless to say, we had a lot of catching up to do with our personal lives (and our kids' personal lives!) After about an hour or so of chit chat, we decided to get down to business. Our leader for the night wasn't able to find a formal discussion guide, but she did have a few questions prepared. We all had lots of thoughts about the novel, though, so I don't even think we needed questions to guide our discussion.

First of all, we thought the author's writing style was very impressive. His descriptions of the setting and especially the Japanese gardens were exquisite. However, he also wove a tale that was extremely complex. I mean this in both a good and not-so-good way. While it was almost amazing how the story (and the side stories) all came together, a few of us found ourselves getting lost at times (but I think the foreign terms and names added to our confusion.)

Another interesting discussion point was how this novel kept us guessing... and thinking. It is safe to say that that we were surprised quite a few times by the actions of the characters. We also discussed the ending and what could have happened to one of the main characters. The story ending was pretty ambiguous, but we agreed that it didn't bother us in this story like it does in some other ones. I'm still not sure we are all in agreement as to what happened!

While THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS was a pretty dark and depressing story, we all liked how there were a recurring theme of love woven into it. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I thought the novel was upbeat by any means, but I did appreciate the message that love helps us to survive even the most horrible of circumstances.

Next month, we will be reading TRUTH IN ADVERTISING by John Kenney. I'm pretty excited about this selection because so many of the reviews are outstanding. It's a little outside of our normal comfort zone but I'm sure it will generate a great deal of discussion.

Summary: Finbar Dolan is lost and lonely. Except he doesn’t know it. Despite escaping his blue-collar Boston upbringing to carve out a mildly successful career at a Madison Avenue ad agency, he’s a bit of a mess and closing in on forty. He’s recently called off his wedding. Now, a few days before Christmas, he’s forced to cancel a long-postponed vacation in order to write, produce, and edit a Superbowl commercial for his diaper account in record time.

Fortunately, it gets worse. He learns that his long-estranged and once-abusive father has fallen ill. And that neither his brothers nor his sister intend to visit. It’s a wake-up call for Fin to re-evaluate the choices he’s made, admit that he’s falling for his coworker Phoebe, question the importance of diapers in his life, and finally tell the truth about his life and his past.

In the spirit of Then We Came to the End and This Is Where I Leave You, novelist John Kenney, a regular New Yorker contributor, mines his own advertising background to creating this moving debut, nothing short of “a masterful blend of wit and seriousness, stunning in its honesty” (Booklist, starred review). -- Touchstone


bermudaonion said...

I'm glad to know my book club's not the only one that takes a while to get around to discussing the book. This one sounds like a great book club choice.

Sandy Nawrot said...

Our book club is full of talkers and drinkers. It takes us awhile to get to the matter at hand. Recently we came up with the rule that we each had to have a question or observation ready, because we were talking about personal things for 1.5 hours and talking about the book for 15 minutes.

Beth F said...

I'd be up for any kind of face-to-face book club; even one that chitchatted.