[GN] The Arrival – Shaun Tan

March 22, 2010 § 18 Comments

What drives so many to leave everything behind and journey alone to a mysterious country, a place without family or friends, where everything is nameless and the future is unknown?

The Arrival is a silent graphic novel, a wordless book that tells a story using the universal language of illustration. The story of a man as he leaves his wife and child behind in a place, though familiar to him, yet offers him and his family no future. He makes a journey, with so many others, in search of  the possibility of a better home, a brighter future.

It’s not an easy thing to do, leaving the family behind in search for something that is quite uncertain. And really, there are no words that could possibly do this illustration any justice, simply because at this junction, when emotions have to be put aside, no words are exchanged, only the shared hope that all this would be worthwhile.

Upon his arrival to this new and strange land; a place where he doesn’t speak the language, and his surroundings appear to him bizarre and crazy, he finds himself constantly thrown off, like having the rug pulled out from right under his feet.

Everything is new, everything is different, and what is worse, he is alone to experience and learn all this.

He misses his family. Constantly. How is it possible not to?

This book reminded me so much of my father. About 6 years ago, he left Malaysia and came to New Zealand alone. Business was not good, he was struggling. And although it was only six years ago, and it doesn’t seem like that long of a time, we didn’t have a computer then. We had no connection to the internet. Our only communication was through the phone, when my dad could afford it, and through letters.

For me, it was like looking at my father’s story. The one he didn’t tell us about, the one that involved feeling lonely and lost. And I could see my father’s face as I saw this image of the man reading a letter from home.

I can see why so many people have read and loved this book. Though silent and wordless, the illustrations spoke to me with the clarity that words would never achieve. The feeling of being lost in a new world, of being amazed at the strange sights, of hearing other stories of other people who have left their homes for a better life; and then slowly learning about this new culture, of making new friends, of learning to laugh again, of finally fitting in.

To me, this is a story that tells us to not despair, to look ahead, that there is hope there yet. A story about the kindness of strangers, this book tells us that even though the tunnel seems endless, there will be light at the end of it.

Rating: 5


§ 18 Responses to [GN] The Arrival – Shaun Tan

  • Amanda says:

    I’m glad you loved this, and thank you for sharing your personal story alongside it. This is an amazing book and my favorite of Tan’s that I’ve read.

  • Aarti says:

    I really want to “read” some Tan books because the illustrations are so evocative. I think I would really like this one, too, as my parents were also immigrants, and I think that would be so difficult and lonely.

    • Michelle says:

      I think this book really managed to capture the essence of how it must have felt like to be alone in a foreign place. The wordlessness of it contributed a lot, because words aren’t something at our disposal when we don’t speak the language.

      I do hope you try this book of Tan’s. It’s just beautiful.

  • Elise says:

    I think Shaun Tan uses the message of hope often and achieves it, and seemingly effortlessly! I am a huge Shaun Tan fan (just commented on The Red Tree post as well), he can do no wrong in my eyes!! Great review!


  • mee says:

    The book is so fitting with your suitcase in the background :). The Arrival is a perfect immigrant story, isn’t it? Love your review!

    • Michelle says:

      Haha. I know. Quite fitting isn’t it? Glad you like my post. I have to thank you again for introducing Shaun Tan to me. Somehow I get the feeling that if I were in Aussie with you, you’d probably literally put his book into my hands and say, “Read him. Now.” =)

  • JoV says:

    Heard so much about Shaun Tan, but this is the first time I’m seeing the illustrations…..

    It is beautiful. Thanks for sharing your personal stories too.

  • kiss a cloud says:

    Can you believe I’ve never heard of this book before? Definitely going into the wish list, thanks! And thank you for sharing your story.

    • Michelle says:

      I hope you get to read it Claire. I think you’ll love it, especially considering your interest in art. The illustrations are just very beautifully done, and the story might touch a heartstring somewhere.

  • Nymeth says:

    Beautiful review, Michelle. I’m so glad you loved it as much as I did.

  • Jessica says:

    Beautiful review, I will order this one as it looks so lovely and a book Id pick up again and again

  • Patty Campbell says:

    Thanks so much for the fine review of this masterpiece. I think a “reader” can even find something in it beyond the immigration experience. Many events in life take us to strange places where all is new and puzzling and we have to figure out the meaning to survive.

    Patty Campbell

    • Michelle says:

      Thanks for dropping by. I definitely agree with you about understanding the book on another level beyond immigration. Sometimes life can throw some rather strange things at us, and we struggle to understand what to do in those situations, like what you said.

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