Monday, 17 March 2008

Strangers in Strange Lands

It was most fitting that Shaun Tan's magical book, The Arrival, was the first thing I pulled out of my boxes once they arrived in Shanghai.

My comfortable reality in Melbourne was certainly challenged after I packed up my life and headed to Shanghai. 'Strangers in Strange Lands' is an apt summary of my experience.

Best if I just lead you to Shaun Tan's words to describe this most amazing work of art, and one of my favourite books in life to date. Bonus that he is such a wonderful guy.

"...Beyond any personal issues, though, I think that the ‘problem’ of belonging is perhaps more of a basic existential question that everybody deals with from time to time, if not on a regular basis. It especially rises to the surface when things ‘go wrong’ with our usual lives, when something challenges our comfortable reality or defies our expectations – which is typically the moment when a good story begins, so good fuel for fiction. We often find ourselves in new realities – a new school, job, relationship or country, any of which demand some reinvention of ‘belonging’...

This was uppermost in my mind during the long period of work on The Arrival, a book which deals with the theme of migrant experience. Given my preoccupation with ‘strangers in strange lands’, this was an obvious subject to tackle, a story about somebody leaving their home to find a new life in an unseen country, where even the most basic details of ordinary life are strange, confronting or confusing – not to mention beyond the grasp of language. It’s a scenario I had been thinking about for a number of years before it crystallised into some kind of narrative form...."

More here (click on The Arrival - and be sure to have a look at Tan's other gems)

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