Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is an immigrant story full of depth and pathos, all the more impressive since the story is told entirely with pictures. By leaving out the words, Tan is able to communicate the sense of disorientation and confusion an immigrant experiences in a foreign land. All good art involves the union of form with function, and The Arrival does just that. The antique feel of the drawings, the fantastical landscapes, and the lack of words all serve the purpose of the book – imparting the experience of arriving on the shores of a strange new country.
Having traveled extensively as a child and recently spent six months in Japan, I have a deep appreciation for The Arrival. While my story is not that of the immigrant, I can relate to the sense of alienation in a new culture. Tan captures many of the difficulties of life in a new place as well as the sense of wonder that only comes from traveling.
The Arrival does what all good art should do – illuminate. It gives enlightenment by imparting experience through a skillful use of form. It sheds light on the experience of others and helps us empathize with those who have been in situations we would otherwise have no way of understanding. The Arrival is a book you would find in the children’s section of a book store, but it is something far more than mere children’s entertainment. It is art that tells the truth about the world in a way that is both enjoyable and profound.