Shaun Tan’s The Arrival is strikingly effective in depicting the constant sense of displacement that immigrants feel, as well as the search for a sense of belonging that lies at the heart of the experience through faces. While I don’t deny the power of visual art to evoke strong emotions in viewers, I was particularly impressed with Tan’s ability to capture the complex/layered immigrant experience in a purely visual form. I think he captures the perpetual sense of “displacement” consistently through many aspects of the story, not least of all setting. But a single part of his drawings stand out: facial expression. Following the idea that this book presents like an old photo album, the faces throughout the story are essential to understanding the narrative. Tan seems to pay meticulous attention to each face, drawing out each particular moment and mood in the way that the features are frozen. This is what lets him get away with a wordless story. Tan depicts extremes: the main character’s pure, unbridled joy in his interactions with his family, the confusion and anxiety of his arrival in a new city, and the sense of bemusement and wonder as he discovers the stories of other strangers. Tan powerfully reasserts the individuality of the immigrant figure, pushing against the societal habit of generalizing and judging.
Which character or face stuck out to you the most?