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The Arrival (Shaun Tan)

March 1, 2011

This book found me by sheer coincidence. I went to the library to pick up another book, and lo and behold, there was this shelf of graphic novels on display. The cover of this book attracted me (I just love me some sepia tones!) so I picked it up. Turns out it’s a graphic novel — one without a single word in it…at least, not any words in the languages spoken on this planet. Well, that makes it sound a lot more sci-fi than it really is.

As the cover and title suggest, it’s an immigrant tale of a man’s journey to a new land. He leaves his family behind and ends up in this entirely new place that seems, for all intents and purposes, rather utopic (despite the factory scenes). And what is waiting for him in this new land? Well, a whole lotta nothing at first, but a super cute little…um…creature of sorts. Yes, indeed, that would be the cute little guy on the cover with him. You’ll understand now why I didn’t know what to call him. But he’s cute, and so is the story.

See, unlike many immigration stories today, this one is not at all tragic. In fact, it’s rather hopeful. While he is clearly in a new and very unfamiliar place (an unfamiliarity that is transferred to the reader, with what I’ll admit felt mildly discomforting, through the undecipherable symbols that make up the made-up language in Tan’s text), he meets kind and generous people — each with a story of his or her own. These people share their stories with the protagonist, and they invite him into their homes. Friendships are born, and relationships are forged. It’s quite a beautiful story, and there’s something inviting and ambitious about the “silence” of a graphic novel without text. Overall, a fantastic way to spend half an hour of your time!

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