PARKER BRYANT Reviews
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
(Arthur A. Levine Books, 2007)
Graphic novels have now become a major genre in contemporary literature. One of these great graphic novelists is Shaun Tan, whose background as an Australian is seen to be greatly influential throughout his book, The Arrival. When asked about his motivation for the book, Tan said, "In Australia, people don’t stop to imagine what it’s like for some of these refugees. They just see them as a problem once they’re here, without thinking about the bigger picture.” Tan believes his goal isn’t to change the readers view, but to cause them just to stop and think. The Arrival is the embodiment of Tan’s goal, as it causes anyone who flips through its pages to reflect about the meaning of the book. The Arrival could easily not be categorized as a graphic novel, as it lacks a true text. But that is what makes this book so special, it is able to describe an experience by simply not having a text.
The Arrival tells of the immigrant experience through what is believed to be a fictional scenario. The story follows a father who moves to a new world in hopes of finding a new life. He leaves his homeland because of a shadowy giant that has overtaken the city. He has to adapt to an entirely new life with strange new animals, buildings, airships, and food. He learns how to live in this new world with the help of former immigrants who have been successful in their new lives. Tan portrays everything in this new world as it would look to someone who would have never seen it before. One of the reasons the story is so successful in getting across such a strong message is that it allows the reader to see the world in a new way. The ability to convey the passage time through the use of pictures is another aspect of Tan’s ability to communicate so much without words. Going along with this, the lack of words shows the experience an immigrant would face in a new world, where even if they do speak the native language, their opinion does not matter.
By leaving words out of the story, Tan leaves the book open to interpretation of where the reader is from and where he is moving. This allows the reader to see the confusion of the protagonist in his new life. A few symbols give the reader a hint of the story from which The Arrival is originally based. Firstly, the ship resembles those coming through Ellis Island in New York’s harbor in hope of a new life. Going along with this the twin statues are similar to the Statue of Liberty or even the World Trade Centers. Finally, the main character appears to live in a poor, ethnic area similar to those in New York. The new technology that he experiences in the new world is also very indicative of somewhere like the United States.
Finally, Tan’s use of the physical book is very representative of what he hopes to achieve. By making the book seem worn and old, it always reminds the reader that the father is doing this for his family. Showing family pictures and familial symbols always keeps the family in the back of the mind. Also, this reminds the reader that this story happened a long time ago and now the protagonist and his family are the former immigrants who have found a new successful life in the new world. The lack of text is what makes this story unique and meaningful to a reader who has never had this experience.
Parker Bryant is a student at Indian Springs School in Alabama.