Page 45 Review by Stephen
Truly a book of wonders...
It's a silent tale rendered in subtle but telling tones from the cold grey of bewilderment, death and despair, through a distant sepia to a golden, burnished bronze that will lift your heart and make it sing. It's a voyage of discovery both for the book's reader and its protagonist, who must reluctantly leave his sparsely decorated house, his soft-handed wife, their quietly anxious daughter, and all that is familiar to him to travel far, far abroad to a land of immigrants which at first resembles post-war New York, but which - beyond the docks, the queues and the cold, clinical and invasive physical processing - couldn't be more alien.
The city is daunting in its scale: a maze of strangely shaped buildings and monuments made no more navigable by maps, for the language there is composed of indecipherable symbols, and the methods of transport are unfathomable. The customs are equally curious, the food is unknown, and the animals bizarre but loyal friends more than pets, accompanying their owners wherever they go. Even the time is told differently there, and you cannot help but fear and feel for the man who has nowhere to go, knows not what to do and can only communicate with drawings. Oh, for the kindness of strangers!
Slowly, however, in tentative steps, the man discovers that he isn't alone: that there are others who've moved here before him, each to escape the horrors of their homeland, who introduce him to the spectacle of their adopted country in all its fantastical glory.
Shaun Tan has created here a perfect impression of just how daunting an experience seeking asylum must be: the sense of complete isolation, loneliness, and most of all helplessness. That's why there are no words: you're locked in the same lack of comprehension as the husband and father is, compelled to share his plight. It's very, very affecting, and the most eloquent rebuttal to The Daily Mail's outirght bigotry and the ignorant, thoughtless xenophobia so prevalent right now. It is also breathtaking in its imagination and beauty: the snow-white flying fish, the sun-dial skies, the life-cycle of a tiny, miraculous flower. Quite remarkable in every way, and certainly my book of the year.