Absence of words in The Arrival

After struggling to attempt to put the puzzle pieces of Dictee together last week, I was incredibly captivated by The Arrival. The contrast between the two is interesting to me—in my interpretation, Cha uses language as a tool to convey the complexity of an immigrant narrative. We mentioned the slight edits in the translation exercises (that would most likely go unnoticed to all but readers who speak and understand French) and the inclusion of Chinese characters as some of the ways that she incorporates this. However, in The Arrival, Tan seems to be portraying a similar aspect of an immigrant experience with the opposite approach—including no words at all. It becomes clear that an absence of words does not mean an absence of language as a form of communication. The absence of words in these stories, for me, does exactly what I think it’s intended to do—it places the reader in an unfamiliar setting to create an intensified sense of empathy and understanding for the reality of an immigrant discovering his new home. Not being able to use words can bring a sense of vulnerability and weakness in a foreign place, but this doesn’t hinder the protagonist from developing a relationship with his pet or other characters, and it also doesn’t hinder the reader from being able to interpret this.

I also found the tools Tan uses for storytelling throughout the novel to be effective. I took the two entire pages dedicated to various shades and shapes of clouds as a way to convey the passing of time. The clouds alone portray a journey, which, in a sense, all immigrant narratives represent.