Soooo… everyone but me seems to love this book to pieces. I am the only one who thought, “yeah it was ok.” I feel like I should have liked it more but… I just didn’t.
Let me tell you a bit about The Arrival by Shaun Tan, Internetland. It is a graphic novel made entirely of pictures. There are no recognizable words in this book. I say ‘recognizable’ because there are words, but we are not meant to understand them. The illustrations are breathtakingly beautiful. The detail in them is stunning, almost like the people could walk right off the pages into reality. The strangeness of the images is… well, it’s hard to describe. It’s whimsical, and a little steampunk, I suppose.
However… I’m an old fashioned girl and I prefer my books to have text. This is why I didn’t fall in love with the book. I connect better with words than with images, as it is harder for me to decode symbols than words.
I did get the gist of the story though. There is a man who is saying goodbye to his family so that he can go across the sea to make a new life for them in the new world. His home where his family is from seems to be under attack by a dragon (although you only ever see the tail). In the new land everything is strange and kind of awesome looking. There are strange foods, animals. buildings and vehicles. The man tries to make his way along by drawing pictures for people to understand him. He eventually meets another immigrant who has also fled from a war-torn country and they become friends. In the end the man’s family comes to the new world where his daughter makes new friends with another new immigrant girl.
The immigrant man is meant to symbolize all immigrants, not just from a specific place, and the strangeness of the illustrations is meant to symbolize the fear and unsureness that everyone feels when they are in a new place, especially a place where you cannot speak or read the language. The dragon and the soldiers (in the other immigrant man’s recollection of his travels) symbolize some kind of oppressive army or dictatorship. I immediately thought of the Nazis — how they moved into places swiftly and silently before becoming more violent in their conquests. How people had to live with a constant fear of the Nazis, just like the immigrant’s wife and daughter had to live in fear of the dragon floating above them.
Not too much to say about this book, I guess. It was an okay story, beautiful in its own way. The illustrations were gorgeous, and the symbols were meaningful. For anyone who really enjoys these kind of books I highly recommend it, but it just wasn’t for me.