The Arrival by Shaun Tan has no words, but it tells a powerful story. Beautiful black and white and sepia toned art work illustrate the experience of an immigrant and his family (wife and daughter). He leaves their homeland first, arriving at his destination after 60 days of a ship voyage. He is processed by immigration officials and finds himself unable to speak or read the language of his new home. He meets other immigrants who share their stories with him and offer him help. It takes a while for him to find work in order to be able to send for his family to join him, but eventually he is reunited with them.
Not only is The Arrival a moving expose of the immigrant experience, but it is a feast for the eyes. Shaun Tan’s art is detailed, magical and emotional. He captures the expressions and feelings of his characters with ease.
Because Tan never specifically identifies where the immigrant comes from and where he ends up, this story becomes one of the universal nature of what it means to arrive in a new country where language, culture, and geography are a puzzle to be figured out. Despite surreal architecture and environment, Tan creates a landscape that also feels historical.
I don’t read a lot of graphic novels, but it is books like this one which make me wonder why I don’t…although I would classify The Arrival as a cross between a child’s picture book and a graphic novel.
Shaun Tan was born in Australia and is the award winning illustrator of several children’s books. The Arrival won the “Book of the Year” prize as part of the New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards, and the Children’s Book Council of Australia “Picture Book of the Year” award in 2007. More about Tan can be found on Wikipedia or on the illustrator’s website.
I would eagerly read more books by Shaun Tan.