I first learned of the graphic novel, The Arrival, by Shaun Tan, through the choked-up and teary-eyed recommendation of a very wise professor of literature and English Education; the reaction the text elicited from this well-read and typically unemotional woman, told me to go home and purchase the book. When I opened it, one of my first graphic novels, I entered into a new experience and a new world. Tan’s, novel, published by Hodder Children’s Books in 2006, has no words; but, the illustrations transcend and transform. The astounding pictures are like pieces of a puzzle which develop to tell the reader the story of the immigrant experience as he or she combines his or her own ideas with those of the author. The ways Tan’s combinations of imagery and storytelling extract emotions from the reader are impressive as they are alluring and refined. The artistry and new reading experience the author provides make the novel unforgettable.
Tan’s graphic novel shows his story in six magically and skillfully illustrated, wordless segments which challenge and astound the reader, providing a different and particular reading experience for each person. The reader, used to being supplied with words and concepts that tell the author’s story, examines each picture, imaging the background, setting, context, situation, emotion involved. In repeating this process with each picture, the reader appreciates not only the aesthetic beauty of the illustrations, but the unique encounter each reader has with the story. Tan’s delivery allows several perspectives and ideas to blossom as he guides the reader. While every person has his or her own rare interactions with each image and the over-arching story, eventually Tan’s messages and themes also shine through.
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experience, Tan sets out to show in a series of pictures the infinite number of ways a person feels alienated, withdrawn, isolated, segregated, and alone.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 for the reader is so real that he or she feels incredibly frustrated, uninformed, and puzzled. At times the reader turns back the pages and feels like a child or a beginning reader, working hard to process ideas and transfer images into concrete notions. Through his graphics, Tan literally subjects the reader to the sentiments of the protagonist. The author expertly aligns the important events for the protagonist with moments of clarity for the reader. Ultimately, the reader understands the brilliance of the illustrations, the story, and Tan’s ability to interweave the sensibilities of character and reader.
The Arrival makes the reader think and feel in ways the author intends and gives him or her the freedom to interpret the art and story in a singular manner. The world can always use more guidance mixed with flexibility in literary form. In addition, Tan delivers much more by making the reader think and feel. This book moves the reader from the inside; it even affects my intimidating professor. So many novels deserve praise, but this is one to collect, to read again and again.
Final Rating: 5 out of 5 stars