The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

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Category: Graphic Novels
Rating: 5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Philip Pullman meets Franz Kafka in this stunning look at the emigrant experience. So packed with detail and wonder, this is very highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 128 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Arthur A Levine Books
ISBN: 978-0439895293

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A man gathers a last memento or two before taking his suitcase in hand, saying farewell to his wife and daughter at the train station, and leaving for the docks to get the boat to the promised land. Once arrived, he finds strangeness everywhere - the food, the language, the immigration procedures, and the lodgings.

Such a common story is this it takes a singular quality to make its retelling stand out. But stand out this book does. I loved everything about it. The cover style, with its antiquated album approach. The fact that there is not a word of (legible) script or dialogue in the whole thing. Every page is something to brush your hand over, marvel at, admire the artistry. This is the de luxe graphic novel the coffee table book buyer demands.

The cover does give some small bit of the story away - not everything alive in this big new world is exactly earthly. It's numbing to see the gateway to the city being some huge colossus of man and fellow beast. The way the inhabitants walk with their animals reminds me of the daemons in His Dark Materials, but no comparisons can diminish this volume.

I would also put the mood slightly in line with Franz Kafka, the industry and strangeness of the way of life our hero meets. But there is so much more - witness whatever you think it is the man is fleeing in the first case.

Shaun Tan's artwork here is never less than incredible. The forepages with their galleries of faces shows the variety he can create, and beyond that we get inventive ways of telling the story. His 'camera' uses ultra-long zooms to go from one microscopic detail to the hugest landscape, he puts whimsy and darkness into things with the utmost persuasive skill, and the draughtsmanship is exemplary. I'm not surprised he mentions Gustave Dore as an influence on some of the images.

This then is simply an outstanding graphic novel. It may seem strange to those not used to reading stories solely in pictures, but even so the newcomer could not but be amazed by the pencilling craft and narrative skills. And if any publisher seeks an illustrator for an alien land with pitch-perfect credible humans in it, and doesn't request Tan first and foremost, they would need their heads examining.

This took four years in the creation. I'm only happy that a second Tan volume has been released more quickly.

It's completely different but you might appreciate Jew by DO Dodd.

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Buy The Arrival by Shaun Tan at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Arrival by Shaun Tan at


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