The Arrival – Book Review

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.

Highly recommended.

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  1. i love his illustrations! I tried a different book of his, and the story was very odd, but the illustrations were just captivating – so creative! I would love to see him do illustrations for someone like China Mieville – what a pair they would make!

  2. I really need to get a copy of this book – the illustrations look fabulous and it sounds like a story I could relate to because of my grandparents and my own experience in France. Can you imagine 60 days on a ship?

  3. I’m just venturing into the world of graphic novels and I this is one I’ve heard lovely things about. Seeing the photos of the drawings, I can see why.

    • Wendy on March 15, 2010 at 17:32

    Rhapsody: I would love to find more books illustrated by him…so unique!

    Kathy: NO! I can’t imagine being on a ship that long! And the conditions years ago were not like they are today!

    Jenners: I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality of the graphic novels I’ve read. I really feel this is more like a child’s picture book – but for adults. Although it is being classified as “graphic.”

    • Tina on March 17, 2010 at 09:19

    I’d not heard of this author/illustrator before. Thanks for highlighting him and this particular feast for the eyes. I’m off to track it down.

  4. I hadn’t heard of this one before, but those illustrations look amazing, mesmerizing – what a wonderful way to convey the immigrant experience in a way that so many can relate to!

    • Jeanie on March 24, 2010 at 00:06

    I was so excited to see that you reviewed this fabulous book. I use it often in teacher trainings, and the teachers I work with are always moved by the power of Tan’s illustrations. I hadn’t thought of it as a “graphic novel” but, of course, that’s exactly what it is. I think that the incredible artwork portrays a level of nuance about the immigrant experience that is hard to capture in words.

    • Wendy on March 24, 2010 at 13:09

    Tina: My pleasure – hope you’ll enjoy it!

    Booklover Book Reviews: I agree – using only illustrations he has done an amazing job portraying the immigrant experience.

    Jeanie: I imagine this is a great tool for teacher trainings! Glad you stopped by to share!

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