As Deep as the Ocean
By Sung Pei ∥ Translated by Sarah-Jayne Carver
Dec 17, 2021

A vast expanse of blue-green water unfurls in front of you as if lit from behind, enveloping you in a fantasy-like atmosphere where fish large and small swim beside you and come up close to meet you.…

The pictures in A Place Like the Sea evoked memories of the dazzling and unforgettable experience I had the first time I entered an aquarium. The pictures don’t just portray the underwater world separated by a curtain of glass, but also the penguin exhibit and the theater where the dolphins perform. These small human-made oceans are teaming with marine life, some of the species were moved here while others were raised within its walls, all to be exhibited before our very eyes.



Lin Po-Ting uses a drawing technique that makes his illustrations feel reminiscent of printmaking, he draws silhouette-like figures whose black outlines contrast with the dappled light of the brightly colored seawater, creating a unique atmosphere in the space. The book is filled with illustrated double-page spreads which feel like movie screens, they have an immediate emotional impact and go far beyond what the text describes. There are very few words in the book and they are only used to state the boy’s inner thoughts. When the boy walks into the huge aquarium with his parents, we see his initial amazement and curiosity turn to fear and then panic as he gets separated from his family, then the nervousness and anticipation that set in when he’s on his own. These various emotions form the content of the text.

The first-person narrative mostly conveys they boy’s subjective experience, while the illustrations usually take an omniscient perspective to objectively depict the environment around him. Sometimes the words and illustrations are not completely consistent, and at times even go so far as to contradict one another, which lets the reader discover another layer of hidden meanings in these small gaps and contradictions. There are also places where there aren’t any contradictions but the text and illustrations create a play on words, where the text is describing the boy’s subjective experience but at the same time is also conveying the thoughts of other characters in the pictures.

A Place Like the Sea uses these puns between the text and illustrations to cleverly tie the characters and setting to the marine life as the young boy’s inner thoughts and feelings can become those of the aquatic creatures themselves. By expressing their situation from the boy’s perspective, the book prompts readers to think about it from the creatures’ point of view and raises the question: Do aquariums force marine animals to leave their homes forever?

Moreover, comparing the front and back endpapers raises an additional question: If we take the sea creatures who have lived in captivity and return them to their natural habitats, will they even still be able to live in an ocean which has been so heavily polluted by humans? What a profound question for the author to hide in amongst the book’s beautiful illustrations and missing-child plot! 



Read more:
- Lin Po-Ting: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=256
- A Place Like the Sea: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=376