“Die While I Can Still Remember Who I Am”: Postcolonial Nostalgia and Trauma in Tan Twan Eng’s "The Garden of Evening Mists"

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Vandana Saxena

Abstract

In his novel The Garden of Evening Mists, Tan Twan Eng, a contemporary novelist from Malaysia, meditates on the nature of remembering and forgetting, of selective preservation of the past and willful amnesia that constitutes the work of nostalgia and memory. Individual recollections are intertwined with the historical references to give a glimpse of trauma and nostalgia which undercut the discourses of collective history and nation-building in Malaysia. This paper unpacks the silences and erasures that create this overlap of trauma and nostalgia in The Garden of Evening Mists. Traumatizing memories of the colonial past, willfully forgotten and repressed, permeate the nostalgic narratives of the present. Through the metaphor of the garden which is central to the novel, Tan creates a space for interconnected memories, some explicit and some hidden in the landscape. Through these multidirectional memories where each act of remembrance evokes other memories of loss and suffering, the narrative reflects on the parallel tasks of remembering and forgetting in shaping the present and its accounts of the past. The novel touches on the forms of historical nostalgia where forgetting plays as important a role as remembering. In Tan’s novel, the postcolonial condition entails a form of survival where nostalgia for the past is forever linked to its trauma.

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