I am writing a story about Detroit for Muse Magazine, a wonderful publication for curious 9-14 year old readers. To give me a sense of the magazine's tone, the editors sent me a few back issues and that's where I discovered a selection from Shaun Tan's beautiful graphic novel The Arrival.
I immediately ordered a copy. The wordless book tells the story of an immigrant who leaves his family for a strange new land. Tan does an astonishing job of capturing the strangeness of that experience while still anchoring the visuals in the culturally familiar environment of Ellis Island/ turn-of-the-century Manhattan. Think the beginning of The Godfather, Part 2, Chaplin's The Immigrant, Lewis Hine's photography mixed with a surreal steampunk Gilliam/Jeunet/Miyazaki alternative reality. The wordless novel effectively conveys the universality of the immigrant experience, I think, everything from the cultural clashes that surrounded Chinese railroad workers in the American West, the Irish stumbling off their trans-Atlantic ships in eastern seaboard harbors, or even the provincial's visit to ancient Rome. One of my favorite illustrations is the simple depiction of the changing seasons, which certainly must be such a shocking part the experience to those coming from more subtle climates.
It's an incredibly beautiful book that should speak to nearly all of us, but especially those who have experienced immigration or are just a generation or two away from it.
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