To give a proper review, I think it’s important to put it out there that I am a second-generation Vietnamese-American. My parents were boat people – immigrants who escaped the Vietnam war on small fishing boats and came to America as refugees. I’ve grown up trying to bridge the gap between the amazingly privileged life I live and the sacrifices of my parents that made it possible. It may have been easier for me to connect and find meaning with this memoir of a similar Vietnamese immigrant family.
Growing up, whenever I had to choose a topic of research in school, I always chose something to do with the Vietnam War. The same with my sisters, or my older one at least. When we had to map out our family trees, our family history seemed darker, more traumatic than a lot of our classmates. In college, I took on a role in a cultural play centered around that same boat voyage to America. In a way, I was trying to put myself in the shoes of my parents. Because despite the closeness of many Vietnamese families, there also exists a disconnect. A constant misunderstanding that’s caused by generational and cultural differences, but also something much more profound. The darkness of war and struggle of survival forever change your dreams, ambitions and expectations of the world.
Thi’s memoir searches for the cause of that disconnect. It’s an exploration of her family history in an attempt to understand the two people that made her possible and what that means for who she is. Her stories were reminiscent of the ones I grew up hearing from my parents, haunting but also full of bravery and strength.
At times the writing read like a history book, the stories explanatory and sequential. Those were parts that I found difficult to get through. But there were also poetic moments that I felt perfectly explained an experience I shared. I wish there had been less straight-forward narration and more storytelling with dialogue or more of those poetic moments.
I loved the art-style though. That monochromatic orange tone throughout the whole book reminded me of the purple in This One Summer.The inky brushstroke style was a fitting blend of American graphic novel and Vietnamese calligraphy. The imagery was fantastic.
I’m not sure how this would read to someone from a different background, but for me it was nostalgic and poignant. For children of immigrants, this gorgeous graphic novel is an all too familiar journey to understand your history, your family and your identity.
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui will be available March 7th, 2017.
I received this ARC free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.