Friday, July 8, 2011
Title: The Arrival
Author/Artist: Shaun Tan
Official Website: shauntan.net/books/the-arrival.html
Pros: Beautiful art; heartwarming story; unique blend of fantasy and realism
Cons: ...Nope, I've got nothing
The Arrival was one of those incredibly lucky finds where you're browsing in a bookstore with no particular goal in mind and your hand is trailing noncommittally along the rows of spines and then you get this feeling and you pull out a book as if it's actually pulling you in and it turns out it's the book you were always meant to read. You know?
So, that doesn't actually happen that often, but in the case of The Arrival, that's really how it felt. I've gone on to read most of Shaun Tan's other works, and they've been a rich source of inspiration and joy. Thanks, Random Browsing Fairy. You done right by me.
The setting: The setting is what really sets this graphic novel apart. The world of The Arrival is a unique blend of the real and the surreal, reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch's bizarre scenes but also thoroughly original. The language is indecipherable, the food is strange-looking, the animals are fantastical creatures, the architecture is bizarre-- even the clocks are incomprehensible. True-to-life, everyday details inhabit these eerie and magical dreamscapes, lending them an essential solidity that gives the viewer a lifeline of familiarity to hang onto. By creating such a bizarre, alien world, Tan is able to convey what it feels like to be an immigrant to a totally unfamiliar land, but the realistic details and well-rounded people lend a humanity and a kindness that makes this a story about friendship, family, love and home, rather than, say, a bizarre thrill-ride through Wonka's acid tunnel — leading me to tag this post with the highly improbable combination of slice-of-life and surreal.
The characters: The strangeness of the setting is nicely balanced by the down-to-earth, authentic, sympathetic people that populate the world. Despite the lack of dialogue or narration, the characters shine through with vividness. Tan's sensitive treatment of facial expressions and body language gives you everything you need to know. In addition to the main character, we are also treated to the backstories of a few others that he meets, revealing the (consistently tragic and horrifying) circumstances that brought them to this new land of opportunity. You will feel very attached to the main character and his family by the end, and feel comforted that they are among friends.
The bottom line: This is an absolutely unique, deeply inspiring, and thoroughly heartwarming gem of a graphic novel.
Rating: Five stars
>> Visit Shaun Tan's website here! <<