Monday, 30 May 2011

Shaun Tan - The Arrival

Title: The Arrival
Author: Shaun Tan
Pub. year: 2007
Pages: 128
Editor: Arthur A. Levine Books

Summary: The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.

What a better way to talk about a book than the author’s way? This simple plot summary contains all the essential elements that will make you fall in love with the story: images all over the place, small and square, big and bright, overwhelming and poetic. No words seem to be necessary to convey all the feelings the author is trying to pass on. We leave the protagonist’s family along with him, taking in the sadness, the fear of the unknown. This unknown that proves to be unbearable at first, full of questions that we don’t understand, of papers we cannot read, of things we don’t recognize and other that are almost frightening. The giant city is impersonal, overwhelming once again: giant buildings like monsters, strange people and pets everywhere, strange jobs that we cannot take... and in the midst of it all, some people are here to lend a hand, to tell their own stories, their own arrival, and we marvel with them at the beauty of it all.

I think I said it all already, but Shaun Tan really has this magical touch with drawing, this unmistakable talent that makes his stories alive, touching, engraving themselves in your mind forever. By choosing subjects that anyone relates to, like being a stranger somewhere, helping someone who is lost, reuniting with your family, he ensures that the message is received by every reader, big or small, old or young. Because the only size that matters to love one of his book is just the size of your heart.

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