Thursday, January 13, 2011

This month’s book: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

arrivalWhat a pleasure to come back to this book!  The Arrival is a graphic novel completely without words (unless you count the ones in an imaginary language). The setting it futuristic, but the artwork is all sepia tones and distressed-looking pages.  The beginning is heart-breaking: the first pictures are of household items, then a family picture, then you see the picture being wrapped and packed in a suitcase, then a picture of a wife with her hand over her husband’s hand on top of the suitcase, and it’s clear that they’re very sad.  The husband tries to comfort his wife and daughter as they see him off at a train, and the wife and child return to a city overshadowed by some kind of danger, represented by a serpent-like tail.  In Part II we see the man on an ocean journey with many other people.  They arrive to a scene much like Ellis Island –long lines, physical exams and paperwork.  Then you finally get a glimpse of the city the man has arrived in.  The artwork is amazing, and clearly shows how strange and disorienting the city is for the new arrival.  Many people have pets, all amazing fantastical creatures, and a particularly adorable one, who becomes his constant companion, is waiting for him in the room he rents.  Part III follows the man as he tries to find work.  He encounters people who help him, and each of their stories is told in a series of images.  Most of the people are fleeing terrible things.  In Part IV he tries a few jobs, and is told more personal stories of other immigrants.  In Part V he sends for his family, who come to join him in the new land.  The books ends with his daughter passing on to a new arrival the kindness shown to her father when he arrived in the new land.  There are parts of the book I don’t understand (what is the dragontail menacing his old land?), but some things I understand better as I read the book over again.  The Arrival conveys the new immigrant’s bewilderment at his new surroundings better than any book with words ever could.  Review by Stacy Church