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BookCover- The Arrival

Shaun Tan,
The Arrival
Lothian, 2006.

Age 10+

A haunting and ultimately uplifting allegory The Arrival is a novel told entirely in pictures. It conveys the horrors, demons and searching for happiness and security of every person who is uprooted from their home, and has to create a new life out of nothing but a suitcase. The hundreds of images which convey the story make compelling reading, albeit reading without words. We ‘read’ the immigration process, the near despair while searching for work or the outreaching friendship offered by other migrants, whose own terrible stories are woven into this one.

Tan has laid out his stunning artwork along the lines of an old album containing all the shapes, sizes, tints and even creases of nineteenth century photographs. This broad visual impact contrasts with the actual details depicted: futuristic architecture, transport and animals; overshadowing monsters, serpents and giant, robotic soldiers: unsettling metaphors for war and strife.  Altogether, there is an overwhelming sense of timelessness and therefore of belonging to all time.

We are drawn into empathising with the frustrations of not being able to communicate through Tan’s depiction of an incomprehensible language and strange food. How can you read a map; how do you know which way up a poster is supposed to go? Can you really eat that – and how? We see humans connecting through music, games, a shared meal: and these humanising elements transcend the factory conveyor belt or the looming machinery. The story ends on an upbeat note as focus shifts to the protagonist immigrant’s daughter: the family is now settled and in a position to help subsequent new arrivals.

Sixty haunting faces stare out from the inside covers, their expressions guarded, their many races, cultures and ages brought together through their shared goal of entry into a new country.  Tan drew on many sources for this book and he tells many tales through his one immigrant ’s story. In the ‘global’ times we live in, he has produced a truly global book, a powerful allegory accessible to all. It could work magic in promoting sensitivity towards the difficulties faced by people in our communities who have been uprooted from their home countries for whatever reason. Every school, every library should have this book on its shelves.

Marjorie Coughlan
May 2007


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