Shaun Tan’s The Arrival pays tribute to all migrants and refugees


Shaun Tan, The Arrival

Published by Lothian Books, 2007


Once I have read The Singing Bones I knew that the saying One good book leads to another is perfectly true.

The Arrival is a complex artistic book with no words that tells a universal story – the story of each immigrant.

the arrival, migrants

The black and white or sepia pictures replace all dialogues and thoughts. As readers, we are forced to walk into the protagonist’s shoes and interpret the symbols and metaphors in our own way. The story can reveal itself distinctively to each reader while speaking about the character’s attempt to find a better existence, to preserve identity and to keep family together.

The book opens with a collage of people’s faces, different nationalities, ages, skin colors; together they make the ubiquitous portrait of the immigrant. Our protagonist is a man in his thirties, married and with a little daughter. They live in a dark landscape, a dragon haunted city so the father decides to leave home and take a journey to a faraway land to create a better life.

Shaun Tan, new world.jpeg

A photograph with the family together will give the father the strength to cross the ocean and find the land of opportunities. The visual references suggest that this new land was America, although surreal images depict this territory that seems to have no real correspondent. Everyday objects and living creatures are replaced with their fantastical variants which literally suggest that as an immigrant, the man has to build a new life, accepting new language, new people, new customs. Strange creatures materialize from unexpected places.

A year passes (the illustrations outlining the seasons are so beautiful and poetic), the man manages to find a job and make new friends. He hears stories of other immigrants’. We see pictures depicting a new life but also emotions – fear, hope, joy, loneliness. It is so much information we are given and so many life aspects we can contemplate, searching for meaning.

The sixth chapter of the novel and the last one will offer photographs of the family reunited. We can even see the little girl assisting a new immigrant.

The title is symbolical too. It speaks about a new beginning; life is not about departing but about arriving.

Please enjoy  Shaun Tan’s interview with no words for Der Spiegel


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