‘Memorial’ is a perfect partnership between text and illustrations, where one element imbues the other with added depth of meaning and emotion. Recounted as a conversation across four generations of a family - a great-grandfather, grandfather, father and son - the written text is formed from a series of recollections prompted by the tenuous fate of a Moreton Bay Fig planted in 1918 by returned servicemen beside a war memorial monument in a small Australian country town. While the conversation touches on the war experiences of each man, from the First and Second World Wars and the Vietnam War, the written and visual narratives also explore the dichotomy of memory, its transience and permanency.
Tan’s highly inventive illustrative approach uses three-dimensional sculptures created with various collage materials including wooden box frames, tree seed pods, fragments of old linoleum and fabric together with painterly artworks and realistic pen and pencil drawings, suggestive of old photographs, to depict images from the past and present-day. Varying visual perspectives of the tree, from a distance, beside its vast buttress roots or perched on a branch, parallel each narrator’s point-of-view and personal story. Textless double page spreads interspersed throughout extend the narrative and offer opportunities for the reader to reflect and engage more deeply with the emotional impact of the story. When the father answers his son’s questions about Vietnam, ‘There’s some things you don’t want to remember, son’, the subsequent double page, full bleed spread in scratched and textured oils, reveals the aged tree trunk, with its cavernous holes and scarred bark bleeding milky sap, evoking a nightmarish monster, screaming in pain. At the climax, the juxtaposition between the written text as the boy vows to fight the local council’s planned destruction of the tree, with the filmic series of vignettes of a worker preparing to fell the tree, is poignant and powerful. This remarkable picture book is a moving exploration on the legacy of war, the significance of remembrance and importance of conservation.
‘Memorial’ was shortlisted for the 2000 Queensland Premier's Literary Awards and an honour book for 2000 CBCA Book of the Year Awards Picture Book of the Year