The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The Arrival coverThe Arrival is a story told entirely in images. Its protagonist immigrates to a new land free of the dark shadows that haunt the streets of his own country. Although some portions of his experience are typical — the long, crowded journey across the sea, the awe-inspiring skyline of his new home, the dehumanising medical examination on arrival — the place itself is anything but. Vehicles float through the streets overhead, fantastical pets are everywhere, and a request for a loaf of bread results in a shopping basket full of unrecognisable produce. Other, more established immigrants help the protagonist to navigate this new place, and tell him their histories. There’s the girl determined to learn, who retrieves a confiscated book and hops a train away from her work camp. The couple who flees an army of giants set, apparently, on cleansing their country of inconvenient humans. The man who serves as a soldier in his country’s army, and returns to find his own city demolished. Like all these others, the protagonist gradually makes the new country home, growing accustomed to the odd and comfortable with the unexpected, until he, too, is able to offer help and encouragement to newcomers.

Tan’s story suggests that anyone who has felt perplexed and out of place in a new situation shares, in some small way, the experience of a new immigrant — to some degree, it is a universal story. The illustrations are strange and wonderful, and have no difficulty carrying the narrative. Because the story has no words, it might be a welcome recommendation for someone who doubts their reading skills, or who already enjoys stories that rely heavily on images, whether on paper or on screen. Interestingly, the book has also been popular with readers who appreciate beautiful language in their reading. Perhaps images so integral to a story can be thought of as part (or all) of the language of its telling — and Tan’s illustrations are stunning!

Read several reviews on the publisher’s website.

See the first section of the book in video form:

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