May 23, 2010

The Arrival

by Shaun Tan

I've been thinking more and more of trying out some graphic novels, having read very few (one being a fabulous edition of Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson that I read in college, mostly for the pictures.) I've got a few in mind that other book bloggers have drawn my attention to: Tales from Outer Suburbia, Clan Apis, Blankets and Charles Darwin's On the Origin of the Species by Michael Keller. So I wondered if my library had a graphic novel section, and wandering the stacks found them: right next to classics, a few shelves labeled 'COMIC BOOKS'. I felt kind of self-conscious poking through them (oddly, as I don't feel that way looking through picture books, or the YA section) and most were manga and other styles that didn't really appeal to me. But then I saw The Arrival. I looked through the entire book right there in the library (causing an outburst of where were you? when I got home, from what was supposed to be a quick ten-minute trip to the pharmacy) then brought it back home to go through again at leisure.

This book deserves that kind of close perusal, even though it's a story told without words. In beautiful, detailed, imaginative and highly communicative illustrations, Shaun Tan tells the story of an immigrant. He leaves his family in his home country and crosses an ocean to seek a better life in a bright, bustling city. Everything there is strange. The technologies, food items, writing and customs are all different- and completely fantastical, so they are strange to the reader as well, who thus shares in his wonder and confusion. As our quiet protagonist navigates this new country, he makes a few friends, meets other immigrants who share their stories, eventually finds work and brings his wife and child to join him. It's a wondrous story. I loved all the little details in the drawings; puzzled along with the man about what the symbols might mean, or what that strange-looking fruit might taste like. I loved all the curious animals, too.

The book has convinced me. I'm going to read some graphic novels, starting with whatever else I can find by this author. I love his work.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 128 pages, 2006

More opinions at: Things Mean a Lot
anyone else?


  1. I read Tales From Outer Suburbia and have been anxious to read another one of Tan's books ever since. This one's high on my list.

  2. Thanks for linking to my review! I'm glad you liked it too. I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for other works by this artist.

  3. Love your review and LOVE this book. And I'm like you - I feel totally self conscious looking perusing the graphic novel section! It just feels 'wrong'! Ha!

    Anyway, I've also been making an effort to read more in this genre - which I feel is underappreciated. I think we've talked about Maus before, but I wonder if you've tried Persepolis? I enjoyed it pretty well. I liked part 1 better than part 2, but I think both are worthy reads.

    I dabbled in Alan Moore's work (Watchmen) and it was just too comic bookish for me. But I'm still interested in trying some of his others. I've heard that David Small's Stitches is really good.

    And if you like wordless tell me you've read David Wiesner?

  4. Anonymous5/24/2010

    Everyone says this one is great. I still haven't gotten around to picking it up yet, though.

  5. Bermudaonion- that one's next on my list!

    Alyce- Me, too.

    Chandra- I've never heard of David Wiesner. This is the first wordless book I've really read (since being an adult, that is). Now I recall, I did read Maus back in college! And heard a lot about Persepolis, but haven't found it yet.

    Carolsnotebook- it's so good I pressed it on my husband. He was resistant at first, but then sat down to read it and my five-year-old climbed on his lap. So they started reading it together. She had to go to be halfway through, and wanted to look at more of the pictures while daddy was at work but he said no! you have to wait for me! you can't read ahead! I'm so glad they're both enjoying it (and this is probably her first exposure to immigration at all, really).

  6. Oh we love David Wiesner! You've gotta check him out! I think his best is 'Flotsam'. My daughter and I also really like 'Tuesday', but a lot of people think it's too creepy.

  7. Oh! I have read Tuesday, I just forgot the author's name. Thanks for reminding me of his works- I'll have to look for those others (unfamiliar to me).

  8. Yes, the detail is absolutely amazing! Oh, now I want to read it again.

  9. This is one I've been longing to read for a while now, all because of book bloggers' rave reviews. I'm glad it's got you interested in graphic novels! Wait until you see what else is out there. :)

  10. So glad to see you enjoyed this one ... and thank you for the link love :)


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