Book Review: The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Days after reading this wordless graphic novel, I am still struck by the imagery. Given our current political climate, this story of one man's choice to leave the imposing and intimidating forces in his home country for a foreign world open to immigrants stands out.
As soon as I opened the book, the inside cover holds this portrait mosaic celebrating diversity. The haunting expressions speak to me of perseverance.
The two-page illustration below depicts the pervasiveness of these dragon creatures winding their way around all of the buildings. The man and his family pale in comparison as they walk away from their tenement.
Shaun Tan's decision to not show the creatures head stresses the helplessness people in this land must feel. How do you combat a creature that slinks in shadows and you can't clearly see what you're fighting?
Following the tradition of many European immigrants, this man takes a train from his home city to a port city where he boards a steam liner to make his journey to this new world.
The ship pulls into an inviting harbor that includes humans and their animal companions in a gesture of cooperation. In this world, every person lives with and cares for a unique animal friend.
As the man gathers with his fellow immigrants, the imagery continues to evoke Ellis Island. The immigrants all look poor with either no baggage or one bag.
They enter a great hall to begin their processing into this foreign world. They undergo health examinations, they struggle with the language, and they explain why they have chosen to come to this country.
Eventually, the man is gracefully passed into this city bustling with people and light. He finds a place to live and discovers his animal companion. His mouse-like companion watches over him and accompanies the man as he tries to make a life in this world.
Along the way, the man encounters several other immigrants who share their stories of what horrible circumstances they fled. One man remembers a war where many died and he lost his leg and his love. A young girl escaped a life of slavery fueling one of many coal furnaces for some larger machine. Another man seems to recall masked giants sucking up fleeing people in the streets.
Among one family who has also known suffering, the man finds food, music, laughter, and light. Friendship and acceptance. Spiritual fuel for the next steps of his journey.
He must find work. And the man encounters numerous rejections. But he endures.
Seasons pass and the man continues on. Ultimately, this story ends with a sense of belonging, community, and hope.
Shaun Tan dedicated this book to his parents. I wish everyone would read this powerful immigration story. I will certainly be sharing it with my social studies students during our industrialization unit.