Shaun Tan

Eric is a very unusual looking foreign student who has come to stay with the narrator’s family. The family tries very hard to make Eric feel at home and the narrator, a child it is presumed, is at first very excited about Eric’s arrival and keen to show him his local area. But Eric likes to do things that sometimes the narrator finds unsettling, and although his mother tries to reassure him by telling him that it must a “cultural thing”, doubt soon settles: is Eric really having a good time? Is he happy living with the family? As there is very little communication between Eric and his host family, it is hard to tell. One day Eric leaves suddenly, leaving the family baffled by his quick exit. But it is only then that the family finds out how much he has appreciated their hospitability.

This simple story of cultural differences and acceptance of others was already published in Shaun Tan’s Tales of Outer Suburbia and has been beautifully repackaged as a stand-alone little hardback book.
What strikes first in this story is of course the oddness of Eric. He is probably a little more “foreign” that one who expect from a foreign exchance student! But the family does not seem particularly fazed with that, or the fact that he is sleeping in the pantry so why should the reader? In fact, bizarrely this makes this story even more universal. It certainly does not take anything away from the simplicity of the story and the message that it carries.
There is no one quite like Shaun Tan. He is one of those artists that are so difficult to describe or talk about, because his work speaks for itself. It is unique, not only in the artwork but also in the subjects he chooses to tackle in his books (The Arrival  or The Red Tree for example). His illustrations ooze lyricism and surrealism, and yet, they are still so … human. The artwork always takes a prominent place in the narrative, often telling you much more than the text could possibly do. In fact at the end of the story there is actually no text, but a beautiful double-spread (the only one with colour), expressing feelings that words could not convey and allowing us to draw our own conclusions.
A beautiful story, gorgeously packaged, which I will undoubtedly come back to regularly.
You can learn more about Shaun and his work here.