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Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Arrival


I have just enjoyed The Arrival by Shaun Tan recently. I say "enjoyed" because it's hard to say I've "read" a book with no words. It's a graphic novel that tells the tale of a migrant who leaves his home and family to make his way to a new land in the hopes of success. To allow for greater audience empathy, everything is depicted as alien to us as it is to him. The food, animals, clothing, architecture, written language are unfamiliar and even slightly distressing to the "reader" as none of it looks like anything we are accustomed to. I've known the horror of looking at a paper handed to me written entirely in a language I didn't understand and was expected to do well on, so I was ready to dole out sympathy pretty early on.

What I found particularly interesting was the representation of the menace that drives these migrants to seek out new beginnings. Our protagonist escaped a land in which a huge beast appears to dwell, twining his spiny tentacles along all the rows of houses. Another migrant's memories show giants marching abroad bearing monstrous vacuum devices that consume birds from the sky, shingles from the roofs, and people who couldn't flee in time. Indeed, the whole place seems to consist of migrants with similar tales of escape and salvation in this new land.

It really is a charming book and I look forward to enjoying more of Mr. Tan's work.

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