A wordless graphic novel might not appear to be the obvious choice for Hong Kong’s inaugural One City, One Book campaign – an initiative aimed at getting everyone in a city reading and talking about the same book. But organisers say Chinese-Australian writer, artist and filmmaker Shaun Tan’s 2006 work The Arrival, a universal story of immigration that has won accolades in Australia, France, Sweden and the United States, fits the bill for Hong Kong perfectly.
“Choosing a single book for all Hongkongers to read poses its own unique challenges, the most obvious being the question of language and levels of difficulty. Choosing a graphic novel allows us to circumvent these challenges,” says Bidisha Banerjee, director of the Centre for Popular Culture in the Humanities at the Education University of Hong Kong, which is behind the project. “The Arrivalappeals to people of all ages, whether they are primary-school children, adolescents, adults or even the elderly.”
The book, which portrays the struggles of a man who leaves his home to seek a better life and the sympathetic strangers who make that new life possible, is rendered entirely in Tan’s evocative sepia-toned images.
“It’s perfect for Hong Kong, since migration is something that many Hongkongers have experienced within the last two generations and many migrants and refugees have made Hong Kong their home,” Banerjee says.
The idea that a citywide programme of events based around a single book could foster a sense of community and civic engagement – as well as a love of reading – originated in Seattle, in the United States, in 1998 and has since spread to hundreds of cities.
Events start with the exhibition “A Foreign Land, A New Home: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival” at Hong Kong Arts Centre, with activities set to be held throughout the year, including discussions about the book and its themes, screenings and cultural performances, author visits and school and library events.
Tan, who in 2011 won the Academy Award for Best Short Film (Animated), for an adaptation of his 2000 book The Lost Thing, says, “As an author, there’s nothing more rewarding than not just having somebody read your work but having the themes and ideas that inspired the book revived in the minds and imaginations of readers and debated as part of a community discussion. I can’t think of a better place for that than a city such as Hong Kong, with all of its cultural diversity.”
“A Foreign Land, A New Home: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival” runs at Hong Kong Arts Centre until January 13. For details of One City, One Book, visit onecityonebook.hk.