With just two more picture books to review in the Picture Books 14:14 Challenge, I’m going to pull a bold move and review… not a picture book. Technically a graphic novel for its length and paneled illustrations on some pages, The Arrival has one of the most beautiful, wordless depictions of plot I’ve ever seen.
Title: The Arrival
Author & Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007
The Arrival is the story of an immigrant traveling to a new land to find a better home for his family. He leaves his wife and child behind in their home country, where the illustrations hint at the shadowy evils of oppression, and packs their photo into his one suitcase as he ventures off to brave life in a foreign territory.
The author’s portrayal of the characters experiences in a new land hit closer to home with my own time living abroad than any other book I’ve encountered. His uncertainty through the complicated immigration procedures, his bafflement and mistakes with the different language, currency, and appliances, his isolation and longing for his family, his wonder at the beauty of the land and culture, the kind strangers who reach out to him, and the slow process of his assimilation are so real. Yet the new land in the book is completely imaginary, filled with fantastical creatures and inventions so that readers of any background can relate to the foreignness of it.
The pacing of the plot through the pictures also helps us to fully experience every action in the story’s plot. Some of the pictures are full two-page spreads, filled with intricate detail for us to take in all at once, like the overwhelming feeling of standing in a new place, surrounded by all kinds of beauty as well as ugliness that you have never seen before, for the first time. On other pages, there are multiple small panels just to show a short scene. A full page shows twenty frames of the character’s hands hovering over a conveyor belt to show the redundancy of his factory job. Others show his range of facial gestures and hand motions as he tries in frustration to communicate.
Although the book is long because of how fully the author portrays the plot, his use of wordless illustration allows you to breeze through it or linger on every experience. It never drags… at least no more than life drags when you find yourself in a place where you don’t yet feel like you belong.
If you enjoyed this book, I also highly recommend Tales from Outer Suburbia, another of Shaun Tan’s incredible graphic novels. I’m not a big graphic novel reader, but these are two of my very favorite books in the world.