The Arrival is a graphic novel. Though: there are no words in it. Shaun Tan drew this entire thing with pencil, and makes one feel like they're looking through a photo album rather than reading a story; check out these clouds he drew in 60 different ways:
The book is about a man who travels to another land to make a better life for himself and his family. The journey begins with their tearful goodbye, the train and ship that take him to the new place, and the immense line of fellow immigrants waiting to sign their way into their new lives.
The man gets lost and confused, can't read the new language, draws pictures to communicate with others, is befuddled by strange-looking foods and creatures, looks for work and meets other people who have come to the same place with similar stories of finding a better life. You see him gaze at the family portrait that he has brought with him while alone in his room, and the loneliness /longing for his family is palpable.
My boyfriend told me that he had read about The Arrival in the New York Times some time ago, so I looked it up and found a review. They put it well:
“The Arrival” tells not an immigrant’s story, but the immigrant’s story. ... By borrowing American imagery to communicate an otherwise universal story, Tan highlights just how central the immigrant experience is to the way America defines itself.Something about this book feels so real, even though the fantastical gadgets, food, animals and alphabet in this unnamed land are completely made up. Tan's thank-you in the back of the book talks about how he was inspired by things like photographs taken at Ellis Island, and a famous shot of a newspaper boy announcing the sinking of the Titanic. But maybe even more than this, it's because this is how anybody must feel when traveling to a completely foreign place. Even though I had the luxury of the Internet and some prior knowledge of Japanese culture before going over there in the spring (for example), I can identify with this main character a lot of the time in his confusion and feeling of homesickness in a sea full of people. Conveying all of these feelings without even writing a word is truly awesome.