I first learned of the graphic novel, The Arrival, through the choked-up and teary-eyed recommendation of a very wise professor of literature whom I would describe, for the most part, as unemotional, Dr. Leila Christenbury. Seeing the reaction that the text elicited from a woman I had conversed with about so many significant issues not only imprinted an image of that moment in my mind, I knew in that instant that I would go home and purchase the book. As soon as the novel arrived, I was able to share in the knowledge Dr. Christenbury and those ranked among the greatest graphic novelists such as Art Spiegelman and Marjane Satrapi already realized. The novel has no words; it is an impeccably illustrated piece of magic which is separated into six segments and it takes less than an hour to read. The book is a piece of art, but not only because of the aesthetics; the combination of astounding pictures that mold the story of the immigrant experience create imagery and sensation that is the definition of beauty. When I read this book, I knew why Dr. Christenbury cried.
I didn’t fully appreciate or conceptualize the why she cried at first or the complexities of the text until after reading it and re-reading it. The novel is outstanding, there is no question about that, but the very thing that makes it exceptional is its ability to confound the reader. In depicting the immigrant experience, Tan sets out to show in a series of pictures the infinite number of ways a person feels alienated, withdrawn, isolated, segregated, and alone. The authenticity of the experience is so real that I admit to having felt incredibly frustrated, unintelligent, uninformed, and puzzled while trying to read the story. I found myself turning back the pages and feeling like a beginning reader in the process. Somewhere along the way, it dawned on me that I was literally being subjected to the sentiments of the protagonist. His confusion, frustration, and sadness had become mine. Amazingly, I was able to piece together the concept of the story at the same time the man began to acclimate himself to life in a new place. Now, I understood the brilliance of the illustrations, the story, and Tan’s ability to interweave the sensibilities of character and reader.
The Arrival is one of the best books I have ever read. This is a novel everyone should keep on their coffee table -it is that stunning. There is more to the text than artistry: it is sad, interesting, heartwarming, challenging, and rewarding. But, all of this a person should see for his or herself.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars