I hate to oversell books, since fulsome praise makes some people dig in their heels and decide to avoid it, and others to dislike it if it isn’t the absolute best thing they’ve ever read. I mention this because my instinct, upon sitting down to write up this book, was to try to grab you all by the collars and force you to read it.

The Arrival is a completely wordless story (except for some writing in a language which doesn’t exist), conveyed in gorgeous sepia art reminiscent of old photographs of Ellis Island. A man leaves his family and homeland, which is ominously shadowed by dragons, and immigrates to a place like turn-of-the-century New York City re-imagined as a city of fantasy, half steampunk and half Dr. Seuss. (If you ever read Chris Van Allsburg’s black and white The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, the art also reminds me a bit of that.) He finds lodging and a peculiar pet, struggles with unfamiliar food and writing, looks for work, and hears stories from other immigrants.

By creating a completely lived-in city which will be strange to every reader, Tan puts us all in the shoes of the immigrant who looks at his or her new world with bewilderment and wonder. Careful attention and analysis clears up some mysteries, while others resolve themselves with time and experience; still others remain baffling. All the time, we recall the family left behind. Will they ever see each other again?

Gorgeous, emotional, and clever. I could go on, but I’m trying not to oversell.

The Arrival
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