Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Arrival

Ever wonder how America looked to immigrants arriving from Central Europe in the 1920's and 1930's? Under the threat of the Nazis? Can you imagine how weird, incomprehensible, and wondrous NYC might have seemed to someone from Lublin, Krakow, or Tisalich?

The Arrival by Shaun Tan, is a wordless story, with hundreds of amazing drawings, telling that tale. The illustrations are surreal enough to give an American the same disorientation, and the same wonder, as someone arriving on our shore for the first time from somewhere very different.

It's actually several stories all folded together, all of them about immigrants, and while parts of it are quite dark, the stories are bright and hopeful, overall.

It also gave me a strong impression of the nearly magical lure that America had for people in that time. It's not all good, the picture painted of us in this book or in the history of the 20's and 30's, but we did stand as a beacon of comparative brightness in the dark, and that is handled well in The Arrival. I'll let you, in comments, opine about America's position in the world today...

If you have an opportunity to look at this book, in a store or in a library, please do. And it would make a wonderful gift. I plan to reread it just to look again at all the fascinating and amusing creatures and the strange architecture. You can see the first few pages on Amazon (their "Look Inside" applet). They don't go far enough to show you America, though... For that, you'll have to get your hands on the real thing.

>>>> Appendix de Grenouille #20 <<<<
Here Grenouille is also visiting another world. He is on Smooja, one of the planets of the Bibadil system, imagined over a decade ago by our oldest son. Back when we created the gravel path between the flower beds we call England and France (our stony English Channel or Sleeve, depending on your point of view) I was creating stepping stones with cement, stains, and a lettering kit. We created all the planets of this system, and set them around the yard in what our oldest, then about eleven or twelve years old, thought right for his creation. The system is inhabited by a series of odd, intelligent and magic beings, which he drew for years, leading to more involved drawings and world later (start at the bottom of that blog, to get the story in order).

Smooja has a moon, called Smali. And Grenouille made the side trip to tour it, as well. In our yard the house is meant to stand for Bibadil (in size and location) and the planets of Drayeen (the largest and most varied in inhabitants), Smooja (with it's moon Smali), and Optican (a weird, uninhabited planet where optical illusions hold sway and many of the creatures' magic stops working) are positioned around it.


Anonymous said...

The Arrival sounds fascinating. I'll have to ask our library if they plan to stock it.

I love your son's imagination. It's great the you and your dearest encourage his creativity. I love to watch my kids when they are using their imaginations. Especially when they aren't aware of me.

School Master P said...

One of the participants in my writing project institute this summer was a literacy expert for Wake County. She brought that book in to discuss how an elementary school teacher could write lesson plans around it. We were all fascinated with it, and I'm afraid I was looking at the book more than I was listening to her.

Steve Emery said...

Thanks, DCup - We've really been fascinated with all three of them and what they have made, thought, done. By the way, I don;t think I've made it clear up to now that if we could only pick one noun to describe our daughter it would be "dancer."

School Master P - I can understand the distraction of the book! The creatures alone... But it's interesting to think of the book in the context of literacy. NOT being able to read the language (the main character AND us) is one of the main themes of the book, and one of its brilliant innovations. I wonder how the book looks to someone illiterate? No more disorienting than English? Familiar, even?

Distributorcap said...

i have to get a copy of that book -- having had two grandparents come through Ellis Island -- i have always been fascinated with the immigrant experience in NY. my grandmother didnt remember anything, but my grandfather had detailed stories (in broken english) of taking the boat over etc

Steve Emery said...

DCap - I hope you do look into it. The book does have some pages on the actual Ellis Island part of the experience. Like everything else in the book, you end up FEELING the things the immigrant might have. It's impressive.