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The Arrival – by Shaun Tan

May 9, 2010

The ArrivalThis is an example of a story that could not really be told the same way in any other form. The book has no words, only pictures, and while the story could potentially be written in novel form, it would not be nearly as powerful. This is partly because it would be much too complex, and partly because to attempt to describe some of the pictures with words would make them seem silly and absurd rather than the awe-inspiring and incredible images they are.

The Arrival is a story about immigration. A man travels to a new land on his own and tries to make a life for himself before sending for his wife and daughter to follow him. Everything around him is strange and different—a new language, new animals, new food, new architecture, and a new way of life. He meets a variety of new people who all have their own unique stories about their reasons for leaving their own countries and coming to this new land. To impress upon the reader the alienation which immigrants must have felt in our own history, moving to America, Tan has created a city that is utterly different from anything we know and understand. Just as everything is new for the man in the story, everything is new for us. There are bizarre creatures and oddly shaped fruits and vegetables, floating ships and incredible, strange buildings. The language used to label everything is in a unique script completely different from our own.

Somehow, when I started this book, I overlooked the illustration on the cover of the man and the strange creature, so until the point when the man arrives in the new land, I was expecting a simple immigration story. The pictures were beautiful, I thought, but I didn’t expect anything like the amazing story they tell. Once the man lands in the new world, everything gets more and more bizarre and fantastic, but it is so effective. This is one of the strangest books I’ve ever read, but it is also fascinating and quite powerful.

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