Christmas is indeed a time of year and it has nothing to do with this book whatsoever, except for being a really good present for everyone, even non readers, due to the universally accessible nature of there being no words at all.
What drives so many of us to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown.
This then is a story, told from the point of view of a man leaving his family, to find and start a better life for them in foreign parts. Here we follow the struggles and confusions, worries and hopes of refugees and immigrants in their plight.
Being presented in the style of a sepia tinted silent film, gives the book a very displaced sense of time which coupled with the sense of location disorientation fits in neatly with the perplexed feelings of the character and immediately opens you up to the fantastical sights that frequently pop up.
Each panel has something to say, from the small and intimate to the drawings that have an epic feel. The lack of any accompanying text really allows your mind to delve into this world and experience all the emotions that these characters feel and convey many other ideas and stories that have nothing to do with the plot but help you flesh out these people in your own mind. A lot of thought gone into crafting each image and I suspect each person will take some new thoughts, ideas or perspectives away each time they come back to this.
Although the narrative is set in what I can only describe as a ‘dreamscape of magic’, the struggles and experiences of the characters are grounded in a reality that we can all readily put ourselves into and understand. Especially the battle to understand a foreign society language and the correct cultural etiquette of doing things. The use of symbols to depict an unknown language in this work helps us sympathise more effectively of the undertaking of such a huge endeavour.
Shaun tan always does deeply enjoyable atmospheric work, The Red Tree and Tales From Outer Suburbia are other books I would highly recommend but for sheer range of emotions on that are brought to the fore, everything from loss, sadness, longing, happiness, vulnerability and worry (to name a few), this though, is his most powerful and critically acclaimed work.
So what is stopping you getting this for Christmas? I would be interested to know if anyone gets this for someone and then keeps it for themselves, which is always justified when it comes to gifts in my view. The picture below by the way is not the most epic in the book but I thought gave a sense of the grand scale of the book. Plus the really grandiose stuff you really have to see for yourselves in context. So now you have no excuse not to go and buy at least one copy.