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Saturday, March 15, 2008 10:32 am
Wordless book: Discuss
Posted by: Kaite Stover

Seems kind of unusual, asking a book group to discuss a book without text. But I think it’s possible. Especially with The Arrival by Shaun Tan.

This haunting, poignant and compelling picture book tells the classic story of an immigrant coming to a new country. The nameless male protagonist (a husband and father) leave his could-be-anywhere homeland (Europe, perhaps?). His country is threatened by the presence of an unidentified creature. He leaves behind his wife and young daughter and journeys to a peaceful, prosperous city in a new country. He is unfamiliar with the language, currency, environment, culture and even the native creatures.

His new country is a peculiar mix of otherworldly people, animals and objects. In sepia-toned softly shaded pencil drawings, the author renders the inquisitive, frightened and eager emotions of the new resident and his adventures with language, directions, job hunting, friends and neighborhood exploration. This new homeland is an intriguing mix of mechanical devices and old-fashioned dress and folkways. Almost every person our hero meets is also an immigrant and their stories of migration and assimilation are also told.

This powerful,  layered, wordless book full of flashbacks, multiple points of view and intriguing illustrations is ripe for discussion. It’s not as quick a read as one might imagine. Readers will take time to pore over every drawing and absorb the details of the hero’s journey to life in a new world. Discussions  involving the universal experience of merging an old life with a new one–past and present–will invigorate readers who use the finely detailed illustrations to support theories instead of the text.

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