Monday, January 19, 2009

the arrival

I've been meaning to blog about this book for about a year now. Hassan gave me a copy, my first introduction to the astoundingly great illustrator Shaun Tan.

The Arrival is a wordless telling of the immigrant experience. Using beautifully rendered sepia-toned drawings, Tan combines the mood of Ellis Island era photographs with fantastical landscapes unlike any we have ever imagined.

We join our nameless protagonist as he seeks a better life, away from the shadowy monsters bringing grief to his homeland. Like every immigrant before us, we leave behind everything familiar and beloved, seeking opportunity and a better life.

We enter a world unfamiliar. Day-to-day objects are new to us, language unintelligible, the creatures and foods perhaps a little frightening.

What can we do for work in this strange new land, without language? The skills we came here with are useless in this new place, where everything must be learned from the beginning.

We miss our family and the comforts of home.

Our protagonist is shown the ways of his new home by a series of strangers, each of whom has their own immigration story to tell. Each of these side-stories are achingly familiar and yet other-worldly:

As every immigrant has hoped and will hope, our family is eventually reunited. This new land does become our home. The day-to-day objects of our new life merge with those of the cultures we come from.

This picture book does more to express my sentiments on human kindness and struggle than any other book I've encountered. Tan clearly put enormous effort into making his story both timeless and universal. It is at once the story of Hassan's parents, my Finnish ancestors, Tan's own father (who immigrated from Malaysia to Australia), and the countless strangers who leave their homes and cross borders everyday all over the world.

Side note: check out the cute stuffy based on Shaun Tan's new-world creature:

You can read about him here.

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