The Arrival by Shaun Tan

11th October 2011

You have to page through this book to appreciate its breathtaking beauty. Crafted like an old family scrapbook, The Arrival by Shaun Tan is one of the most beautiful stories told: the immigrant’s story. It’s been told by so many people in so many different ways, but this wordless graphic novel illustrates the story in a very vivid way.

A young father leaves his family to move to a new land to find work. The animals, the people, the buildings – all are new and foreign to him, and Tan emphasizes this by creating buildings and machines and animals wholly unlike any you’ve seen before. The man is lonely but goal oriented, and he communicates with drawings and hand gestures. He comes home in the evenings to a picture of his family, waiting for the day he will be reunited with them.

Tan uses both panels and full pages of illustrations, and the endsheets are an amalgamation of faces – European, Asian, Middle Eastern. Many of the illustrations almost appear to stand out from the page, pasted in with care by a loving family member. Thumbing the pages in quiet, looking and appreciating the bravery and ambition it takes to pack up, leaving family and friends and culture behind, only to arrive somewhere so different, so unfamiliar, and often, so unfriendly, was a singular experience and one I’ll not forget soon.

The imagination and creativity in the drawings is key in depicting just how different the immigrant views the new country, but the genius (in my opinion) in this book is the choice not to use words. By removing any words, Tan reinforces the silence of the immigrant’s experience. As a new ESL teacher, this honestly stopped me in my tracks. Often, my beginners have no idea what I’m saying, and I have to strive, through word choice, gestures, and sometimes, badly-drawn pictures, to get my meaning across. Though it is certainly not easy for me, I know it is much more difficult for them, and I admire their determination to learn a new language. It can’t be easy.

For a small experience of The Arrival, scroll down:

  • Yvette

    Loved your post, Picky. I’ve owned THE ARRIVAL for awhile and I agree that it is a remarkable book of incredible beauty. Everytime I look through it I find something new to marvel at.

    Shaun Tan is one of my favorite artists. All his work is extraordinaryily inventive. His imagination knows no bounds.

    • Thanks Yvette. It was just so fantastic. I’m so glad I bought it so I can come back to it again and again.

      I haven’t checked out anything else by him but definitely will

  • Amy

    When this came out a few years ago, I was still working at a bookstore. I started looking at it and next thing I knew my manger came over to reprimand me for not shelving… until he started to look at it too! It quickly became a staff favorite recommendation!

    • Ah the trials of working at a bookstore. I never have, but I can assure you I would be reprimanded often for the same thing. Great story.

  • This was my favourite book of the year when I read it a few years ago. Pretty amazing considering there are no words. I have looked through it several times now and just love it every time.

    • That doesn’t surprise me in the least. I knew I would like it but wasn’t at all expecting the effect it had on me.

  • *gasp* — want! NEED! This looks amazing, sounds amazing, the pictures you shared are amazing — wow!

    • Audra – I think you would be blown away. It’s inexpensive, too, for such a beautiful piece. Can’t wait to hear if you get it and what you think

  • Wow, beautiful. I like your point about the silence echoing the immigrant’s experience… it sounds lovely.

    • Thanks, Julia. It really is a very lovely book. Even though I’ve read a lot of fiction with this theme, this was altogether different.

  • I should check this out since I can probably relate. Did you know Tan plans to make this into a movie? It helps that he won an Oscar earlier this year for his short, “The Lost Thing,” adapted from one of his stories in “Lost & Found,” another beautiful book.

    • I didn’t know that, but I got another rec last night on Twitter to watch “The Lost Thing” and plan to, soon. Heard it’s great.

  • Iliana

    This looks beautiful! I read one of his books last year and love it so I have to read this one too. Glad to hear you loved it!

    • Iliana – especially because you are so creative, I think you would just love it. I would love to have some of these illustrations framed and not tucked away in the book. Hope you’re settling back in nicely. I know last time I saw you were still in vacation mode. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I want to read this book SO BAD.

    • You need to. It’s amazing.