Cover Story: Clarity and melancholy

This article first appeared in Options, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on July 9, 2018 - July 15, 2018.
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Malaysian novelist Tan Twan Eng parses purple prose to make his books as clear as possible.  His timeless, sad story in The Garden of Evening Mists has impressed readers and judges alike and earned him the 2012 Man Asian Literary Prize. The book  has been adapted into a movie that is being shot in various locations in Malaysia.

Tan Gim Ean finds out how the Penang-born writer hones his craft.


Like the gardener who painstakingly prunes and shapes his plants, Tan Twan Eng parses his prose until he is happy with how it flows. It is a long process that involves constant thought, rereading and rewriting, reading passages aloud, the input of literary friends and having an ear for words and nuances.

“My main point as a writer is I always try to be very clear. It’s probably because I was a lawyer as well — we try to make our documents very clear. I don’t like reading books where the author thinks he’s being clever by making things difficult for the reader,” he says.

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