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: