The Arrival

Stories can be presented in the form of words, but they can also be presented in the form of pictures…. Whatever stories are made of, words aren’t fundamental to it. Something else is. And what I think is fundamental to the narrative process is events — stories are made of events. So said Philip Pullman to me in his recent Barnes & Noble Review interview. As if to illustrate Pullman’s point, Shaun Tan’s The Arrival came across my desk a few days after our conversation. Tan’s stunning volume chronicles — in a wordless, wondrous pictorial narrative — an immigrant’s parting from his family and journey toward the future in a new land that is simultaneously ominous and hopeful. Told in drawings of varying sizes — sometimes there are 12 panels to a page, sometimes four; there are many full-page images — Tan’s tale juxtaposes the realistic with the phantasmagoric, giving shape to both the mundane material needs and the psychologically charged emotions of immigrant experience. Isolation, fear, want, sympathy, amity, joy: all are rendered palpable by the author’s fecund visual invention. He has composed an imaginative landscape in which the uncertain bravery of an immigrant’s journey is seen in its true grandeur; best of all, Tan has created a mesmerizing and mysterious “bookscape” in which readers young and old can wander again and again, poring over details, elaborating events, fashioning narrative destinies, discovering new worlds. Ages 12 and up. –