It feels wrong to write about Shaun Tan’s The Arrival using words. It is a complete betrayal of the compelling, beautiful story Tan manages to tell using detailed illustrations only. Unfortunately, I cannot express my love of this book without words, unless I were to print out a strip directly from my brain of what runs through my mind when I read this book (and we don’t have the technology for that yet).
The Arrival has been called both a picture book and a graphic novel, yet to me both these labels seem wrong. The complexity and length of the book make it strange to call it a picture book, and the term graphic novel suggests that words play a large part in the story. Neither is true, so I will stick to simply calling this wonderful creation a story.
The Arrival is a story of migration to a strange land, where everything is foreign and lonely to the protagonist. The reader follows this character’s journey as he navigates his way into his new home. What is truly astonishing about this book is not the way Tan manages to tell this story through pictures alone, but just how universal this story is. There is no specific country or race represented in this book and, even if you’ve never migrated yourself, I think everyone has experienced at some point in their lives that feeling of not belonging. This really is everyone’s story. The emotion Tan evokes from his illustrations is stronger than any words could have been: without the words to offer guidance, the reader is free to fill in their own story, bringing their own experiences to life within these pictures.
Tan is an extraordinary artist and storyteller. I have never read a book like this, and don’t think I will ever come across another.
Lothian Books, 2006