This epic novel, told in evocative retrospect, begins when the now elderly Philip Hutton gets a surprise visit from Michiko Murakami, a Japanese woman who was once romantically linked to Hayato Endo, Philip’s former mentor and sensei.
Her arrival sparks complicated memories for Philip—some warm, some bitter—but he agrees to share his harrowing tale with her. The year is 1939. Philip is the youngest son of the owner of one of the dominant British trading companies in Penang, which dates back to the glory days of Victoria’s empire.Unlike his brothers and sister, Philip is half-Chinese, the product of his father’s second marriage. Since his mother’s death, Philip has been a loner, merely tolerated by the British community and not fully accepted by his Chinese compatriots. He derives his greatest pleasure from furtive visits to the uninhabited island just off shore from his family’s palatial home, and he is incensed when he learns that his father has rented the beloved retreat to a Japanese diplomat.
Hayato Endo is a Japanese consular officer who, like Philip, craves the isolation that the island provides. When he meets the sixteen-year-old, Endo takes an instant liking to the boy, inviting him to visit the island whenever he wishes. He also begins to train Philip in the martial art of aikido. Soon sensei and student become inseparable, with Philip serving as Endo-san’s personal guide to Penang and Kuala Lumpur. Others warn young Philip that he should keep his distance from this Japanese man with a mysterious past, reminding the boy of the atrocities that Endo-san’s countrymen have reportedly unleashed upon China. But totally enthralled with his new friend and teacher, Philip brushes off their objections as racial prejudice. Visiting a fortune teller with Endo-san, Philip is told, “You were born with the gift of rain. Your life will be abundant with wealth and success. But life will test you greatly. Remember—the rain also brings the flood.” The woman’s prescience proves accurate when war begins and Philip comes to realize that his friend, now the enemy of his country, has irreparably betrayed him. Endo-san is indeed a spy, and Philip’s innocence has made him complicit in the Japanese invasion of his homeland. As Malaya’s once idyllic way of life is crushed beneath the oppression of war, so too is Philip’s life forever changed.
About the Author
Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang and lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. His first novel, The Gift of Rain, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Czech and Serbian. The Garden of Evening Mists is his second novel.