Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Title: The Arrival
Author: Shaun Tan
First Published: 2007
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Source: Library | Sheila's review was what compelled me to pick this book right away
128 pages




In a nutshell
A man gives his wife and daughter a last kiss and boards a steamship to cross the ocean. He's embarking on the most painful yet important journey of his life- he's leaving home to build a better future for his family.

Shaun Tan evokes universal aspects of an immigrant's experience through a singular work of the imagination. He does so using brilliantly clear and mesmerizing images. Because the main character can't communicate in words, the book forgoes them too. But while the reader experiences the main character's isolation, he also shares his ultimate joy.


What more can I say about this book that has been raved about a lot already?

I think...
When I first decided to read this, I wasn't sure exactly how I will find it. In spite of all the praises heaped on this book, I wasn't sure if I will be in the same camp. Not because I doubted its effectiveness but rather I worried if I would even grasp it. A story told only in pictures? You've got to be kidding me! How can the emotions of the character be even expressed, with no words gracing the pages of this book?

On finishing this book, I realized I had a narrow opinion of how pictures can tell a story. I was looking at them in isolation. I wasn't counting on the interconnection between several pictures to do the story-telling, when a single picture isn't enough. And Shaun Tan uses this technique really well. I was very impressed by this book. Without using words, Shaun Tan creates a world that could be anywhere. Even the language used by the characters in the book is not English. In fact, the reader doesn't even need to understand the words, edit, the reader shouldn't understand the words.

A man leaves his hometown and moves into a new city, hoping to earn enough to send for his wife and daughter soon. The impression of dragon tails hanging over his hometown conveys the danger of staying there any longer. When he arrives at the new place, the first sight that greets him is a statue of two men shaking each others' hands, aka the Statue of Liberty. The new town is as strange as it can be, with oodles of perceived fantasy splashed in every aspect of the residents' life. The pets are strange creatures that I will never wish for in my living room. The machines look strange, the food reminds me of slimy creatures. But much as the whole new environment was disquieting, that was exactly the effect Shaun Tan intended to convey - a new world as novel an experience to the new immigrant, as it is strange to the reader.

Over the next few days, we see this nameless man (and rightly so) meet up with previous immigrants, who share what they went through in their old hometowns. We see how this man embraces his new life, as he tries to adjust. As he starts looking for a new job, we see how his lack of knowledge of the new place's language becomes hindering. The pictures very well convey how he struggled to understand the customs of the new place, and how he adapted over time.

I strongly recommend this book. This was a new experience for me, reading, rather seeing the pictures. I found this book in the juvenile section of my library. That's fine, but somewhere I read that this book could be read to kids of 5-7 years of age. I'm not entirely sure of that. To actually enjoy this book, you need to understand what Shaun Tan is trying to tell through the strange world. This is the kind of book I will return back to a few more times, since there is so much being told in each picture.

What did you think?
Have you read this book? I'd like to know what you thought about it. Please leave your review link in the comments, or a brief opinion, if you hadn't reviewed it.

9 comments:

Marg said...

I read this book a couple of years ago now, and was completely blown away by it, to the point that it was my favourite book of the year. I found that a little odd actually given that there were no words in it at all.

One thing I really enjoyed with this book was reading it myself, and then giving it to my son who was about 8 at the time and asking him to tell me the story that he saw. There were some similarities, but there were differences too.


My review can be found here

bermudaonion said...

I really want to read this after experiencing Tan's artwork in Tales From Outer Suburbia. I'm so glad to see you loved it even though you had misgivings going in.

Juju at Tales of Whimsy.com said...

Wow. How cool. I love it. It seems like something I could sit down and read/view with my nephew. Thanks for the recommendation

Aarti said...

I read this recently and my review should go up in the next couple of weeks. I really loved it, too!

Emidy said...

Wow, that must be different "reading" a book with only pictures. I want to get this book and see how I like it. Excellent review, Aths!

Alyce said...

I agree with you about the targeted age group. The copy that I read was also found in the children's section, and that surprised me. It's not that there's anything offensive, but like you said, I wasn't sure that kids would be able to comprehend everything the author was intending (and I'm not sure I did either). It is a book that you can read several times and get new things from the images each time - things not noticed the first time around.

christa @ mental foodie said...

Your review is so much better than mine! :) (http://mentalfoodie.blogspot.com/2010/05/book-review-arrival-by-shaun-tan.html)

I agree that this is more of a book for adult.

I've now borrowed 2 more of his books! :)

The1stdaughter said...

Wow! Such a good review, truly! And now I'm even more curious to read it with my son...I'm going to have to make a point of doing it, because I would be so interested just to see what he gets out of the experience.

Fantastic review! Now you've inspired me to make sure I read through this one soon.

Aths said...

Marg, Wow.. thanks for letting me know that. I guess this book can be read by kids too then (They never cease to amaze me!). Now that I think of it, kids do embrace strange things better than we do. I doubt they would feel the first few pages of the new world disturbing, like most adult readers felt (I'm basing this on the reviews I read). I have a 6-year old niece who loves reading. I should probably hand it over to her a year or two later and see how she understands it.

Kathy, I sure hope you choose to read it. This book was amazing!

Juju, it sure does, doesn't it? You have to let me know how the reading exercise goes.

Aarti, I'm glad you loved it too. Looking forward to your review!

Emidy, thanks! I was so looking forward to it, since I wanted to know how a book with just pictures can draw someone like me in, what with no experience in reading such books.

Alyce, that's how I felt too. I'm not sure I took in the full import of what the book is telling, it takes multiple readings to get what you missed.

Christa, I'm curious as to how you find his remaining books. I have to look them up.

Danielle, I sure want you to read it, and I'm esp eager to know how your son interprets it.