Book Review: Shaun Tan’s The Arrival

The ArrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow. I’m stunned by this book.

I’ve read a lot of comic books in my time, and some graphic novels, so on first glance, I wondered how the format would work. The panels are mostly square, a series of 12 or 20 of them, say, and then a larger illustration.

Tan creates his own rhythm and style, and basically, from the first pages, I was drawn in. The smaller drawings require more attention, simply to take in what’s happening, so when a larger view appears, a punctuation or emphasis, it has this feeling of emotional enlargement as well.

When the protagonist of the book sees scenes of his new city for the first time, I felt this same sense of a huge, unfamiliarity looming over me. And they took my breath away, these images. The first are identifiable, a father leaving his wife and child, to emigrate. And then wonderfully, it’s clear that this is not a literal tale. There are dragons. There are strange and charming creatures. The language is incomprehensible.

And yet what is clear and understandable are the emotions, the small victories and challenges of the protagonist as he makes his way into this new life. The drawings are *beautiful*: moody, emotional, gorgeous. And the creation of these worlds and this story, all in images: what a wonderful achievement.

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