Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Abrams ComicArts
Publication Date: 7. March 2017
Rating: 5/5. Stars
TW: child abuse, PTSD, cheating, mentions of war
Summary: An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui.
This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home.
Disclaimer: I received an e-copy of this book on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
An engaging memoir about a family’s escape from South Vietnam in 1978 after it’s fall. It tells the story of Thi Bui’s parents and their vastly different upbringings and how they late met and started a family together, right before the Vietnam war starts and they are forced to flee the country with three little children and her mother pregnant again.
The story begins with Bui right during childbirth. When she gets to rest and sleeps in the same room with her son, she begins to see her parent’s in a different light. In an attempt to close the gap between their lives she decides to take up the idea of telling her family’s story again, which she started researching shortly after visiting Vietnam as a teenager.
At first, she reflects on the bad moments in her own childhood, on her father telling the children gruesome stories to teach them an important lesson and his bouts of rage, on her mother’s emotional and due to her working a long job often also physical absence. She decides to look further into their past to find explanations of their behavior way back in Vietnam. It shows the terrors of war that wrecked the country and the suffering of the people. It shows the horror refugees feel during their escape and how the fear of being forced to get up in the middle of the night again and run, never really leaves you.
It shows a family history and the upbringing of whole generations. It gives us insight into Bô’s childhood in North Vietnam as the son of a poor man in a country shaken by violence under a communist regime and Má’s relatively safe childhood in a wealthy household in South Vietnam. It shows the terrors of war that wrecked the country and the suffering of the people. It shows the horror refugees feel during their escape and how the fear of being forced to get up in the middle of the night again and run, never really leaves you. It features some of the troubles and prejudice they faced as an immigrant family in America, in a country so vastly different from Vietnam.
The art and the text flow together perfectly. You need one to explain the other and it weaves a truly remarkable story. It meditates on what it means to belong somewhere, to people or to a place. I adored the art style, it was rather simplistic (only a handful of colors were used, the characters were only outlined) and yet there was a lot going on in the pages. It fit nicely and looked really good.
The Best We Could Do is a stunning graphic novel which sucked me into the story from the start. It tells the story of a family, which gives us little information about the start of the Vietnam war or anything else, but it was incredibly heartfelt.