The Arrival by Shaun Tan

October 15, 2009

the arrival Plot summary (with spoilers): The Arrival is a graphic novel that wordlessly tells the story of an unnamed man’s immigration to a new country. The drawings lay out the man’s plight, first by showing that his family lives in less than luxurious circumstances, with not a single piece of modern furniture or decent crockery in sight, and that their city is being menaced by a strange creature. It’s clear that the protagonist is seeking a better life for them all.

The man takes a steamer to his destination, a very unusual city that resembles nothing the reader has ever seen. The man is overwhelmed by all the sights, sounds, and continual action. He doesn’t know the language and can’t read even the simplest street signs. But he manages to find lodging by drawing out his request for a kind stranger who was willing to help.

From there, the illustrations show the protagonist becoming acclimated to his new home. He personalizes his apartment, finds a job, and even makes some friends. He eventually is able to save up enough money to send for his family, and when his wife and daughter finally join him, his life is once more complete.


  • I’d never read a “graphic novel” before, and I thought it was a very interesting experience. I liked how I could interpret the drawings in my own way, and therefore color the story with my own details. Sure, the outline was there and I couldn’t very well make just make up a bunch of stuff, but it was still fun to supply my own possible reasons behind the characters’ actions.
  • The drawings were amazing! Shaun Tan is clearly a very creative person.


  • Some of the drawings left me completely baffled, making me wonder what their significance was. At times I wish I had a guide or something to let me know what point the author was trying to convey with a few of those illustrations.

I thought The Arrival by Shaun Tan was a very nice change of pace from what I usually read. The experience was interesting, and one I’ll not soon forget. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.

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