The world of graphic novels has sort of been a new discovery for me over the last year or so, and I've found the experience to be thrilling. I know there are many of you that look at this type of book with a skeptical eye, but to me it is almost like combining the joys of reading and watching movies. In many cases, the visuals just grab you by the hair and pull you into the book. They are generally a very quick read, and can, in just a couple of hours, blast you right out of that reading slump. It's immediate, and impactful.
I'd been hearing about Shaun Tan forever. His work has won umpteen awards, and just this year, won an Oscar for the short animation "The Lost Thing" that was adapted from his book of the same title. I was long overdue for an introduction, and I started with his most well-known publication, "The Arrival".
In nostalgic sepia tone, and without a single spoken word, Tan documents the story of one man who leaves his family and immigrates to a land of promise in search of a better life. We sense that his homeland is threatening by an unspecified evil (war? disease? oppression?) and has no choice, but is an extremely painful decision.
Upon arriving in the new world, the man is faced with a strange language (invented by the author to create the sensation of confusion), fascinating and magical buildings, and unrecognizable creatures, one of which attaches itself to the man and becomes its companion.
The man meets others who have walked in his shoes, ones of varied races and ethnicities, and they show him kindness and help him with his transition. Once the man's family finally joins him in the new country, they pay this kindness forward to other newcomers.
The beauty of this story is in its simplicity, its magical realism, its hopeful innocence, and the immigrant's tale that could be applied to any country, race or culture. My heart was filled to the brim almost intantaneously with emotion and yet not one word is written. It was enough to take my breath away, and then after I'd turned the last page, sit there in stunned silence.
The book is described as a children's book. It's certainly appropriate for any age, and the illustrations would most likely enchant them, but I wonder if the underlying message would be lost. I sat down and went through the book with my son, whose mind can stretch around just about any concept, and he loved the book, but needed some explanation. Our absolute favorite thing about the book is the little white creature who adopts the immigrant man (on the front cover). We think we need one of those little guys.
Without a doubt, one of the best graphic novels to date.
5 out of 5 stars