The Arrival is receiving a book spotlight today in honour of Harmony Day. Australia’s history and multicultural society has been shaped by the many waves of immigration to this wonderful country of ours. The Arrival is the story of all the men, women and children who have travelled to Australia to make it their new home.
I first came across the work of Shaun Tan upon reading The Rabbits, and I was instantly a fan of his illustrations. The Arrival is a wordless book; some class it as a graphic novel. The images tell their own story.
The Arrival tells the story of an immigrant leaving his homeland and embarking on a future in a new land. His experience is overwhelming as he adjusts to a new language, new living conditions, new customs, new food, new creatures and new friends.
Tan’s artistic style is unique, busy and incredibly detailed. With each of his books, including The Arrival, I find myself returning to them time and time again to revisit the illustrations. Each time I open a page I find something new in the illustrations: a new object, a new message, a new interpretation.
Wordless picture books give power and creativity to the reader, but there is another purpose to the absence of words in The Arrival. As a reader of The Arrival, we walk in the shoes of an immigrant. There are no words to understand and nothing seems straightforward. We must interpret the images and the strange symbols Tan uses; just as an immigrant in a new land, without the acquisition of its language, must find a way to understand and communicate with his new neighbours.
The end pages include 60 hand drawn images of immigrants. The Arrival is their story. The creation of this book involved four years of research, development and drawing and was inspired by anecdotal stories Tan had heard from migrants during his life.
Tan has been clever not to use a particular language, animal, food or city in this book, so that this story resonates with any immigrant, of any culture, of any time period. The images are drawn using a sepia colour to portray a personal photo album.
Each page of The Arrival is made up of a mosaic of illustrated images. The images on the first page include a picture illustrated by the immigrant’s daughter, a ship ticket, a clock, a pot of tea and a suitcase. These images make up the fine details of his last day in his homeland.
The detail in each image throughout this book is breathtaking. There is no wonder that this book four years to create. The emotion that is portrayed to the reader in pictures alone is phenomenal. For example; the turbulent weather during a difficult boat journey is depicted in a double page spread of dark cloud images. We are a fly on the wall of this immigrant and we live his life even down to the smallest of details, like watching him use a shoe to hammer a nail into the wall on which to hang a treasured photo.
Throughout the book the gentleman remembers his home and the reason for immigrating. He meets other immigrants along the way and together they share their stories. A year passes and his family is reunited. The last mosaic of images almost mirrors the first, except that the mosaics are replaced with a new type of clock and teapot.
Symbolism is characteristic of Tan’s work. There is much symbolism taking place in The Arrival. This symbolism is very thought-provoking and open to interpretation. For this reason it would be hard to keep this book to yourself. I know there are questions I have of the book that I’m eager to discuss with other readers.
Title: The Arrival
Author and Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Publisher: Lothian Books/Hachette Children’s Books, October 2006