Hope and Humanity in “The Arrival”

I don’t know how you guys have been in the last couple weeks, but I’ve been feeling confused and a bit lost. Half the time I’m scouring news sites, trying to get a better grasp on our new reality, and the other half of the time I feel like covering my ears and huddling in the corner by myself. Sometimes if I’m lucky enough to land by the bookshelf, I might remember to curl up with my favorite book, “The Arrival” by Shaun Tan.

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The soft, meticulous pencil drawings of this wordless graphic novel give a cinematic effect, like a silent movie –  often I just open to a random page, and am instantly submerged in the story.

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“The Harbor” (from The Arrival by Shaun Tan)

It’s an immigrant’s tale, following a man as he leaves his family in the dangers of his home country and travels to a new, peculiar world, where everything is foreign, from the indecipherable language to the strange foods that he doesn’t even know how to eat.

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“The Suitcase” (from The Arrival by Shaun Tan)

 

Along the way he meets other immigrants, who share their own stories while helping him navigate, find work and understand the new customs. 

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“The Story of the Giants” (from The Arrival by Shaun Tan)
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Illustrations of the ticket helper’s story from The Arrival by Shaun Tan
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“Dinner” (from The Arrival by Shaun Tan)

 

When I first saw Shaun Tan’s work, including this book as well as his wonderful essay Picture Books: Who are they for? some small wheels started turning in my head. I believe it was at that point that I realized how effectively picture books can help both children and adults process complex thoughts and concepts.

“The Arrival” was first published ten years ago, but it feels so relevant today. It’s the story of a country accepting people from all over the world, told entirely with a delicate, expert use of light and dark values.  Although there’s sadness and fear, there’s also hope and humanity, and it’s why I come back to it time after time.

Are there books that you read in hard times, that help you return to hope? If so, please share in the comments below.

16 comments

  1. Two different family members gave me copies of this book one year. It is so poignant and significant. You are so wise to bring it forward now. Once, at the SCBWI conference in NYC, I stepped into the elevator and the only other occupant was Shaun Tan. OMG. What could I say that wouldn’t sound gushy? So, I commented on the little moth pin on his lapel. His wife designed it for him. It was a steampunk version of a moth that had been white, but during the industrial revolution it became black to camouflage with the soot everywhere. Now it has reverted back to being white. Mr. Tan is the vortex of a beautiful life of thoughts.Thank you for posting this. I was in Havana, Cuba on election day. Serious worries there.

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    1. Hi Joyce – Thanks for your note – sorry for delay in response, just seeing this now! I remember those moths from my biology classes, so neat. His wife’s work is lovely too, although I’m not as familiar with it. I was bummed to have missed him at the SCBWI NYC when he was there, I definitely would have awkwardly gushed :). What a lovely sentiment about him, “the vortex of a beautiful life of thoughts”. Thank you so much for sharing.

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  2. I love Shaun Tan’s work, too. What a great post–it helped me consider his work in a new way and made me feel a little less alone in this strange new world. Thank you, Sarah! One book I return to in hard times is The Essential Rumi, a book of insightful, beautiful poetry that speaks across time and culture.

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  3. Great post Sarah, thank you. We love Shaun Tan here in Australia. There were two books I always returned to when I was sick as a child. I cannot remember the name of the novel, but the other (I was only a kid) was 101 Excuses For Not Doing Your Homework. As an adult, cliched as it is, I find hope in the Harry Potter books

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    1. Yes, I think he has several art shows going in Australia too, maybe you are lucky enough to be near one of them! And of course, Harry Potter is a wonderful source of hope and not cliched at all, they’re so popular for a reason. I’ve seen lots of Potter-related memes circulating these days.

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    1. Hi Kate – I am sorry, I know how you feel. For me, this book creates such a strong sense of empathy, and I love the way that the people in the new country help him. I hope you are able to find it, maybe try interlibrary loan if they don’t have it at your local branch!

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  4. Sarah, this is the PERFect book to bring up, considering the horror that’s happening now here 😦 Shaun Tan’s work is amazing! I can’t think of any book I use for that purpose, though there are many I could, especially the Bible. I tend to just keep doing what I must and work things out mentally and with the knowledge I’ve gained about the days we’re living in. Great post, Sarah 🙂

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    1. Thanks for your note. Often I feel that the books I turn to change with the situation, but this one takes me out of my own experience and puts me in such a foreign world, and the wordlessness gives me the time to study the drawings and to really get engaged. I’m so glad you like it too.

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