There is so much contained within this book, and like a cicada, it’s just waiting to burst out from beneath the surface. You need this book in your homes, in your classrooms, and in your hearts.
Shaun Tan is a wild genius, and sometimes he does it with a lot – glorious words, hyper-detailed and strange art – and here he does it with so little. The art is still beautiful, and what words there are sing off the page, but it’s his mastery of control and surreal commentary that make this a modern masterpiece about modern culture as we live in it.
The story is about a cicada that works as an office drone, is unappreciated by the humans in whose world he lives, and it’s all very bleak and subdued. From here, Tan comments on modern capitalist society, and how downright boring it is, and why we should abhor such an existence, and he does it so effectively that I’m hard pressed to think of a better literary burn on what a waste most of what we consider “modern living” is. The final words would be haunting, if not for the fact they made me laugh so much.
This is a book with heady themes present, and every adult will connect on a very real level, but kids should be exposed to this kind of thinking. They should have it unpacked for them.
S P O I L E R S
Cicada is about whether we’re getting busy living, or getting busy dying. It’s about city living versus getting back to nature. It’s about putting the goals of necessity before our happiness. It’s about how we’re getting it all wrong.
The titular cicada is completely downtrodden, ignored, bullied, and cast aside. It’s horrible. But doesn’t this happen to us all when you really think about it? It might not be obvious, or explicit, but most of the time it doesn’t hurt to consider if we’re making any difference, and if that impact has any real staying power. Or do we live, consume, die, and the world turns on?
It sounds horrible, and it really kinda is, so the story offers a solution of sorts.
The cicada, retired, already forgotten, walks to the roof of the building in which it lives as well as works and it splits open. A blade of red light appears, and the true cicada form emerges, naked of the business attire, and it returns back out to nature where it started. More importantly, where it belongs.
The theme of the story is that we should be doing what we are meant to be doing. We should be connecting with nature, we should be living and working within our means, we should be putting happiness ahead of…I don’t know, progress, bland citizenship, money.
It’s better to live as a cicada in the wild, happy, than grind through an endless life in the city and be a millionnaire.
The book leaves us with the cicada’s blistering assessment – it has left the city, to return to its kind, and sometimes they think about the humans, and they laugh.
This stopped me, and I had to laugh, but I was stopped nonetheless. Yes, they laugh, at our ludicrous existence, and Tan hits the nail on the head.
We’ve got it all wrong.
But this book is a step in the right direction, in a way. It’s a book to share, to come together for, to discuss, to open our minds and hearts, and to change our futures.
We should be doing what we’re supposed to be doing, not what we’re told we should be doing, or what we’ve told ourselves to believe we should be doing.
Weighed down by all of t h i s ? Then shed your skin and let’s get started.
CICADA by Shaun Tan is no doubt available at every good book store near you. Google one and find it and support your local bookseller.