The Arrival by Shaun Tan
The Arrival portrays the story of a migrant man who leaves his wife and daughter to go to another land where he does not know anyone, he does not know the language, and he must try to find his way until his family is finally able to join him. A notable aspect of the graphic novel is that it is told entirely through images, without any text. As such, the silence of the reading experience mirrors that of the migrant, who has embarked on his journey alone. Although the pencil drawings are realistic in style, the subjects and landscapes feature fantastical elements. Just as character designs root the story in our human experience, the unrealistic creatures and settings allow the story to transcend time and place. The story does not focus on any single history, but instead reflects a universal migrant experience of arriving at and coming to belong in a new place. Fantasy elements also immerse the reader into sharing feelings of displacement since the language, foods, and landmarks are as foreign to the reader as to the migrant. It took me time to adjust to reading The Arrival since there were no words and I was not initially sure what to think about the fantasy features. But, having finished the book, I am left reflecting on how the book not only depicted a moving migrant story, but also served as a simulation of sorts for me as a reader. I am realizing that the “arrival” has been as much mine as it was the main character’s.