Monday, February 3, 2014

Book Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This exquisite picture book - graphic novel, really - captures the challenges, loneliness, and alienation of immigration.  There is not a single word in the 128 pages, but the illustrations tell the story so completely, almost cinematically, that words would be at best redundant and at worse a major detraction from the theme and experience of reading the book.

I knew nothing of the story before opening The Arrival and I think it was most effective to have the powerful realizations this book brings creep up on you slowly and then suddenly burst out in a blaze of recognition that brought tears to my eyes. So if you'd prefer to have that type of experience with the book (which I highly recommend), stop reading this review and just go request it from your library right now!

If you're a "last-page reader" and you just want to know the main thrust of the story, feel free to keep reading.

In an understated, yet emotional leave-taking, a man packs his suitcase and boards a ship to travel to a far-off land, leaving his wife and young daughter behind in a small, rundown apartment. After a long, crowded passage, he disembarks in a world full of unfamiliar buildings, animals, and food.  It's beautiful and exotic, but couldn't be more different from the land he left. The language is a gibberish of symbols. He struggles to find a place to live and a way to work and earn money in this utterly alien land and relies on the kindness of strangers (it's not only for Blanche DuBois!) to navigate the strangeness.

The illustrations make his loneliness so visceral and yet so intimate.  Large cityscapes make it clear that he is but one tiny person among the vast hoards.  Close-ups of the family photo he brought and his hands and face as he explores his new home emphasize his humanity.

He meets other immigrants and makes connections with them through their similar stories of loss and escape from danger and isolation in a foreign land.  Finally, he and his family are reunited in their new home and the story comes full circle as his daughter helps a new arrival find her way in the big city.

In a literary field full of worthy immigration stories, this is a welcome and moving addition.

The Arrival
by Shaun Tan
ISBN: 9780439895293
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

No comments:

Post a Comment