“…Considering the terror that fuels debates about immigration throughout the western world, Tan’s message is pointed and utterly relevant, not just to teens struggling with their own feelings of alienation, but to all humankind. It is an absolutely marvelous book.” —VOYA
“…It’s an unashamed paean to the immigrant’s spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect.” —Kirkus Reviews
The Arrival is a migrant story told as a series of wordless images that might seem to come from a long forgotten time. A man leaves his wife and child in an impoverished town, seeking better prospects in an unknown country on the other side of a vast ocean. He eventually finds himself in a bewildering city of foreign customs, peculiar animals, curious floating objects and indecipherable languages. With nothing more than a suitcase and a handful of currency, the immigrant must find a place to live, food to eat and some kind of gainful employment. He is helped along the way by sympathetic strangers, each carrying their own unspoken history: stories of struggle and survival in a world of incomprehensible violence, upheaval and hope.
Reviews & Accolades
“Tan captures the displacement and awe with which immigrants respond to their new surroundings in this wordless graphic novel…A wide variety of ethnicities is represented in Tan’s hyper-realistic style, and the sense of warmth and caring for others, regardless of race, age, or background, is present on nearly every page. Young readers will be fascinated by the strange new world the artist creates, complete with floating elevators and unusual creatures, but may not realize the depth of meaning or understand what the man’s journey symbolizes. More sophisticated readers, however, will grasp the sense of strangeness and find themselves participating in the man’s experiences. They will linger over the details in the beautiful sepia pictures and will likely pick up the book to pore over it again and again.” —Alana Abbott, School Library Journal
“Recipient of numerous awards and nominations in Australia, The Arrival proves a beautiful, compelling piece of art, in both content and form…Tan infuses this simple, universal narrative with vibrant, resonating life through confident mastery of sequential art forms and conventions. Strong visual metaphors convey personal longing, political suppression, and totalitarian control; imaginative use of panel size and shape powerfully depicts sensations and ideas as diverse as interminable waiting, awe-inspiring majesty, and forlorn memories; delicate alterations in light and color saturate the pages with a sense of time and place. Soft brushstrokes and grand Art Deco–style architecture evoke a time long ago, but the story’s immediacy and fantasy elements will appeal even to readers younger than the target audience, though they may miss many of the complexities. Filled with subtlety and grandeur, the book is a unique work that not only fulfills but also expands the potential of its form.” —Jesse Karp, Booklist
“The cover of The Arrival, made to look like old, worn leather, establishes a family photo album motif that Tan faithfully carries through the entire book. Inside, borderless sepia panels are arranged in careful grids. Creases and unidentifiable splotches elegantly blemish many of the pages. Tan completely eschews motion lines, sound effects and any other comics storytelling devices that would not be found in photographs. Even the spaces between the panels suggest a photo album: instead of the pencil-thin gutters found in most graphic novels, he uses generous half-inch strips of yellowed paper. The effect is mesmerizing. Reading The Arrival feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic.“ —Gene Luen Yang, The New York Times
“…Stunning, powerful, gripping, moving-Tan’s book is meticulously thought out and perfectly wrought, making use of both high-brow surrealism and extensive research into photographic records of immigrant stories. The story alternately displays Tan’s heartfelt understanding of the dislocated existence of immigrants and his robustly imagined fantasy setting. The oversized book moves effortlessly from sepia-toned, quasi-photographic panels of heartbreak to double-page spreads of startling depth and creativity. The crafting is perfect, as panel sequences communicate action wordlessly, using, for example, a long series of cloudscapes to explain the tedious passage of time. But this cunning, careful artwork does not preclude the persistent throb of human warmth. Repeatedly the story tells of determination, of survival in hopeless times, of unexpected kindnesses, and always, always of love. Especially touching is Tan’s imaginary population. In the bizarre cityscape he has imagined, every single person is an immigrant. In this world, the natives are the immigrants. Considering the terror that fuels debates about immigration throughout the western world, Tan’s message is pointed and utterly relevant, not just to teens struggling with their own feelings of alienation, but to all humankind. It is an absolutely marvelous book.” —VOYA
“Told entirely in pictures, Tan’s story shows a man’s journey to a new land, his new experiences, and the people he meets…It would be a welcome addition to any classroom that is studying immigration.” —Children’s Literature
“An astonishing wordless graphic novel blends historical imagery with science-fiction elements to depict brilliantly the journey of an immigrant man from his terror-beset land of origin to a new, more peaceful home. Sepia-toned panels and turn-of-the-last-century dress and architecture seem to place readers in familiar territory-but fantastical images, including monumental cities, various bizarre forms of air transport and distinctly alien animals serve to unsettle both protagonist and readers, plunging the latter into the unsettling and often terrifying experience of being alone in a new land. Perhaps the most ingenious touch is the use of a newly created alien alphabet printed everywhere-on signs, official papers, maps, etc.-which renders the literate entirely helpless. Frightening this new land may be, but there are friends everywhere, from the other immigrants who help the protagonist and tell their own tales of escape from oppression, war and fear to the whimsical beastie who attaches itself to him as his pet…It’s an unashamed paean to the immigrant’s spirit, tenacity and guts, perfectly crafted for maximum effect.” —Kirkus Reviews
Immigration, belonging, family
Unknown foreign country
“The book had no single source of inspiration, but rather represents the convergence of several ideas,” Shaun Tan wrote for an interview for Viewpoint Magazine on The Arrival. Growing up half-Chinese in Perth, Australia may have contributed to his interest in belonging and he remembers having “a vague sense of separateness, an unclear notion of identity or detachment from roots, on top of that traditionally contested concept of what it is to be ‘Australian’, or worse, ‘un-Australian.’”
Tan drew on stories he heard from his father, who came to Australia from Malaysia in the 1960s, from overseas-born friends and from his own experience as a traveller. He found common themes from these stories, such as language difficulties, homesickness, poverty, lost of social status and family separation.
For his illustrations, Tan was “struck with the idea of borrowing the ‘language’ of old pictorial archives and family photo albums…which have both a documentary clarity and an enigmatic, sepia-toned silence.” He soon found himself creating a graphic novel rather than a picture book and chose to make it wordless to put the reader in the shoes of immigrant character. Tan consulted Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud and Japanese manga to help with creating his wordless narrative. The images and the creation of his fantasy country came from visuals of New York in the 1900s, as well as European, Asian and Middle-Eastern cities.
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