This is a beautiful, haunting picture book which will captivate all your senses and let you experience all levels of emotion. It is a wordless picture book and has the rare quality of saying much more by not having any words.
This works so well because we get to empathise with this immigrant’s world. He does not understand a word any of us are saying and so we get to share that same feeling. Nothing can be demonstrated, no feelings can be shared and yet Tan achieves the impossible and we get to know this man, more than we might a vocal character in a novel.
Shaun Tan has caught my eye recently and I’m really excited about looking at his other books such as ‘The Lost Thing’ and ‘Tales from Outer Suburbia’. His illustrations are not typical of a young child’s picture book, and for that reason I recommend this picture book for older children 7+ and adults alike. His sketch-like illustrations and subtle in their evocation of meaning and yet so much is depicted in one illustration and lets us in to this lonely characters life.
The illustrations follow an immigrant in a new city as he travels to find a new life. Alone and scared; the reader is given that rare opportunity into someone’s feelings and we see the ‘immigrant’ in a new light. We share his sadness and joy throughout and it’s a very rare and spectacular thing to see such a range of emotion through illustrations.
From this page above we know exactly what is going on. Following the illustrations in a sequence, we see a foreign map, a man struggling to read a foreign map, a man alone struggling to read a foreign map, a man alone in a large, intimidating city struggling to read a foreign map. It’s just a masterful piece of work and I couldn’t sing its praises anymore. If you come back from the book feeling empty, perhaps you were meant to; you were meant to feel the emptiness the immigrant is feeling. If you come away joyful and uplifted; you were meant to do that too.
Some have described Tan’s work as surrealist, as a graphic novel and after reading Art Spiegelman’s review, we might even liken ‘The Arrival’ to his ‘Maus’ work in a sketchboard like format. However you may interpret the book, I can say wholeheartedly it is an outstanding piece of artwork and of literature in its most imaginative format. Stunning. I’m very excited to discover the rest of Tan’s work and will be running a feature on his books in the current weeks.