With touching detail, Shaun Tan tells the story of a migrant family, seeking refuge and asylum in a strange new city. By depicting this new city as an alienating, science-fiction world, Tan performs a neat trick on our empathy glands. By undermining our own ability to navigate this strange new world, all and any stereotypes are cleverly swept away and we are made instead to share the family’s confusion, struggle, astonishment. We can’t see the way forward either, when the child is lost. We can only wait with her to be saved, feel how it is for her. My children held their breath again and again until the next kind act came along to lighten the family’s load or light their way a little bit further. The happy ending is itself an act of kindness, as one child helps another child.
‘The Arrival’ is a wonderful story to show to children but this is a book for adults too, especially now, when refugees and migrant families have perhaps never been more vilified in the press. This quietly brilliant, understated book is so timely. Above all, in ‘The Arrival’, Shaun Tan allows us to see the small acts of kindness which come the family’s way for what these everyday moments really are: Transforming. We need more books like The Arrival at a time when the environment for asylum seekers is so hostile but the need for a place of refuge is so acute.