The Arrival

Last updated on January 26th, 2020 at 07:48 pm

Illustrator Shaun Tan calls his latest work, The Arrival, The Arrival by Shaun Tan a picture book. I think you'll find it's a bit more than that.

For me, this complex and fascinating work occupies some other reading realm. Yes, it's full of illustrations. It's also novel-length (which is why you'll find it in the graphic novel section of most bookstores). But you won't find a word of traditional text or dialogue.

What is The Arrival illustrated book about?

It opens sensibly enough with a sequence depicting a family photograph that's inevitably plucked from the shelf, wrapped and placed in a suitcase. And so begins (and ends) the most traditional part of a story of a man who leaves his wife and daughter to look for work and perhaps a better life in a foreign land.

Hot air balloon in The Arrival by Shaun Tan This is where Tan cranks up the creativity. The traveller's destination comes off as a surreal and wondrous cross between Xanadu and Oz – with fez-adorned statues larger than the colossus at Thebes and flocks of origami-shaped birds swooping overhead.

Have you read

The traveller must learn to navigate the city (at one point he travels in a compartment carried aloft by a hot air balloon), speak a foreign language and find work and a place to live.

I promise that “reading” this book is the real voyage of discovery

The traveller must learn to navigate the city (at one point he travels in a compartment carried aloft by a hot air balloon), speak a foreign language and find work and a place to live.

Seeing is believing

 There's not much I'd like to give away about the city, the inhabitants he encounters there or the special help he receives from a strange little egg-shaped lizard. You must see it for yourself.

I promise that “reading” this book is the real voyage of discovery. The first time, I found myself flipping the pages quickly, trying to figure out what was going on. The second time, I slowed down, stopping for minutes at a time to take in the imaginative splendour of some of the full-page illustrations or details of some of the complicated frame sequences. Lately, I've been opening the book at random, and savouring whatever slice of the journey happens to lie before me.

Happy reading


Elizabeth Frengel is a curator of rare books at The University of Chicago Library Book Arts and History

 

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