Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Arrival by Shaun Tan - A Review

We were hopeful of having all three of us do the review but Lee had to beg off as his real world job has kept him busy and salivating over his two Boston teams has taken up a lot of his time. I will share with you that Lee did "read" this book and he enjoyed it also. So onto the review by Gwen and I.

Jim: This was a really wonderful graphic novel. From the design of the book itself to the story it was a truly amazing. The graphic novel is wordless, but tells the story of an immigrant leaving the impoverishment of his land and coming to a new land. He leaves behind his wife, child and all he knows to try and find work in this new world. It takes time and he is often very lost and is trying to adjust. Ultimately he finds work and makes enough money to bring his family to the new land. A very simple tale, but made new by the images that Shaun Tan uses in his book.

He creates an almost magical and Rube Goldberg (google it) type world with his illustrations. The cityscape, the animals, the machines are all very strange and almost totally unfamiliar. It really puts you into the shoes of our new immigrant and makes you think how hard is it to come to a new land and have to understand all the strangeness that would be associated with such a venture. You feel his courage in learning to find his way and you feel his loneliness for the loss of his family.

It was such a wonderful idea to take a straightforward tale and by using only visuals you really get to know what it is like to walk in his shoes. Nothing is familiar, nothing works like it should, and the world that was once a familiar and comfortable place is full of strangeness. You are out of place and alone and almost have a feeling of being lost.

Having never had to experience a relocation of that magnitude, it made me appreciated what people coming to a new land have to overcome to make a life in a strange world. This book is well worth seeking out. The illustrations are beautiful and the empathy that it evokes makes you have a better understanding for what it means to be a new world.

Gwen: I loved this book. I'm so happy I was able to experience it and it has been added to my list of comic books that should be taught in a classroom as literature. Shaun Tan's grasp of symbolic expression is masterful. I was amazed at how much I, as someone who's hardly had the opportunity to travel to unfamiliar places, managed to lose myself in the protagonist's world.

Actually, now that I think about it further, they should use this book to supplement history classes when they teach about Ellis Island. When I went to Ellis Island as a child on a school field trip it was just a museum at the end of the day. As much as there's a certain silence to the place I just felt as if there was some understanding just out of my grasp. As someone who was born and grew up in one country I couldn't truly empathize with those who had come before me. The Arrival is presented in such a way that anyone can understand, at least a little, what immigration must have been like for those who move to another country seeking a better life.

Shaun Tan makes the settings just fantastical enough that you lose your equilibrium and have to adjust to the new and confusing setting right along with the protagonist. Yet, the settings are still grounded enough in reality that you have no trouble following the story.

Two things I absolutely adored about this story were one, the fact that every family seems to have a familiar (a pet of sorts for those non gamers) which adopts them when they arrive in the new country. Two, the way we get to learn the stories of others who have immigrated to this new place through the protagonist's interactions with others. Tan's symbolism and strong sequential style really shines in this area.

I also included scans of two pages that show the contrast between the protagonist's old and new life. I thought that it was a good way of showing the amazing work this book presents.

Overall: you should buy this book, read this book and share it with all your friends. I hope to see more work on this level from Tan in the future.

So there you have two opinions of The Arrival. This is a great book to seek out and put on your bookshelf and loan to anyone who wants to know if graphic novels can do more then tell a tale of super heroes.


  1. I'm going to lend this book to Arielle!