Now, enough Robert's Snow illustrators mentioned Shaun Tan in their interviews that I finally picked up a copy of his new graphic novel The Arrival. And I have to say, hands down, it is *worth* all the buzz.
The Arrival is a story about immigration, and belonging, and finding a new home. The main character leaves his family, and takes a long journey to a strange land in the hopes of finding a better life for his family. This is a story we all know. In America, at least, there have been countless re-tellings of Ellis Island and other immigration stories in movies, books, plays, songs...the list goes on and on. Immigration is a huge part of our American history and mythology. But I've never seen the story told quite like this.
Shaun Tan grew up in Perth, Australia, and is half-Chinese. His father came to Australia from Malaysia to study architecture. Themes of immigration and belonging and home have been a part of his consciousness as long as he can remember. When he began The Arrival, he intended it to be a short picture book for children. Instead, it became a graphic novel that took five years to create, and it speaks to people of all ages, all nationalities, all walks of life.
The Arrival is completely wordless. The pictures tell the story, in a frame-by-frame style that is more reminiscent of film than of comic books. And because there are no words, we are brought in to the story in a much more personal way. The strange land that he travels to would be strange to anyone...it is a land of Shaun Tan's invention with tadpole-like creatures that emerge from pots and strange birds that unfold and fly vertically in the sky. Modes of transportation, food, even the buildings are all so odd that the reader feels just as disoriented as the traveler.
This is the genius of this book. When you are reading it, you can't help but begin to understand what it might be like to leave everything behind and start new. The excitement, the fear, the hope. It's all there. Here's an excerpt from an article Shaun Tan wrote about the book:
One of the great powers of storytelling is that it invites us to walk in other people’s shoes for a while, but perhaps even more importantly, it invites us to contemplate our own shoes also. We might do well to think of ourselves as possible strangers in our own strange land. What conclusions we draw from this are unlikely to be easily summarised, all the more reason to think further on the connections between people and places, and what we might mean when we talk about ‘belonging’.
Here is a page from Shaun Tan's website (scroll down to see many images from the book, and scroll down even further for Shaun Tan's comments about the book).
Here is a terrific interview with Shaun Tan from Fuse #8 (most likely the first place I read about the book when it came out in February).