National bestseller 2017 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Finalist ABA Indies Introduce Winter / Spring 2017 Selection Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Spring 2017 Selection ALA 2018 Notable Books Selection 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. In what Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls "a book to break your heart and heal it," The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui's journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.
And a very sad book as well. Thi Bui was born in Vietnam, just around the time that the Vietnam War was starting to wind down. Her family history is intwined within the stark differences in the Vietnamese society up to and during the war, as her mother was from the bourgeois class and her father was decidedly less well off. But this story isn’t just about a family trying to escape a violent and unsafe situation; it is also about a family that is forever affected by society around it, and a family trying to fit in in a new place that is completely new and different to them. By giving the context of her mother’s background, her father’s background, and the culture and society of Vietnam during their childhoods and her childhood as well, we get a story that is tragic, hopeful, devastating, and important all at once. She also does a very good job of showing how Western Imperialism and Colonialism, of course, had a large effect on how Vietnam dealt with a cultural conflict of the North versus the South. I really appreciated that she pointed out that for people in America during the war (those fighting it aside), it was more of a concept and something to support or speak out against. But for the Vietnamese, it was the life they were living every day, and that somehow kind of got lost in the narrative.
I also really liked the stories of her family, as imperfect and in some ways dysfunctional as it was. She has a very conflicted opinion of both her parents. Her father wasn’t a very good parent to her, and he wasn’t a very good husband to her mother either. But seeing his childhood that was filled with turmoil, poverty, instability, and broken family ties, we can completely understand why he turned into the man he became. We also see that her mother was in many ways a remarkable person who had ambitions and dreams, but then found herself in a marriage she wasn’t completely invested in, and with a family that, as cherished as they were, put an end to her ambitions, ambitions that absolutely could have been backed up by talent and know how. Bui contrasts her own journey into motherhood against the story of her own mother, and it is incredibly effective and bittersweet.
I think that what I found most effective about this story is that it has a powerful message, but it is wrapped in a family memoir. I was expecting far more about the fall of South Vietnam, and the journey out under cloak of darkness. But while that certainly does play a part, it’s really a story about a family, and how having to move from one life to another, whole new life in a whole new place caused damage that never quite repaired. Trauma, war, and displacement isn’t something that is forgotten just because you move to a new place and start a new life, and sometimes adapting to that new life can be a challenge in and of itself.
The art in this book is absolutely gorgeous. It is fairly simple at first glance, but images pop out and really take the reader’s gaze into them. I loved the colors and I loved how detailed it was, even though it looks like it’s fairly straight forward. I really cannot recommend “The Best We Could Do” enough. In a time where I think empathy and understanding are sorely needed when it comes to trying to understand the refugee experience, Thi Bui’s memoir will engage readers and show them how much is lost and how much is sacrificed just to stay alive. This is an incredibly important book.
Advance review copy.
The story at the center of The Best We Could Do, the story of a family emigrating from Viet Nam, is a good story. It includes a lot of dramatic turns and is often heartfelt. The characters were interesting, especially those closest to the author-narrator. The art was only okay, but this isn’t ever a huge factor in my opinion of a graphic novel.
I think the problem I had connecting with the story had to do with presentation: the pacing, the chronology, the details shared and those left hidden. You can tell that this is a very, very personal book for the artist and I feel that perhaps Bui was too close to the story to have an appropriately objective view. The story was a part of Bui and where events were clear in her mind, the way they’re presented are unclear to the reader. On every page it was evident that the story meant something to this family, but it never meant anything to me, as the reader. An unfortunate result for a story with much potential.
I do not know much about Vietnam history or its war, but these book describes the points of view of the two sides and let me learn more about a country that lost almost everything.
I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher via netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Thanks!
Beautiful graphic novel showing the life of a regular family immigration from Vietnam to America.
Quotes and snippets:
Family is now something I have created -- not just something I was born into.
Proximity and closeness are not the same.
I began to record our family history. Thinking that I could bridge the gap between the past and the present, I could fill the void between my parents and me.
I know this is caricture, but lacking memories of my own, I've come to depend on other people's stories.
In addition to being an easy read, this book is also excellent. Thi Bui developed her own illustration style just to complete this book. I love that it is 2 colors, an orange and black, which gives it both a newspaper comic feel and a plain old newspaper feel--which seems fitting for the amount of history included in these pages. It is very heartfelt, fascinating, and has a lot of history and love in the pages.
Bui describes her parents' lives before, during, and then after the Vietnam War, as the fled from Sai Gon to further south. How they taught school, had 6 children (4 surviving), and tried to make it during the war. And then how they fled. Bui herself was a toddler in the refugee camp in Malaysia, so has no real memory of the events. They made it to Indiana with the help of her mother's sister who was already there, and then made their way to LA. It wasn't until Bui herself had a child that their story really hit her--also, she began to understand why her father was as difficult as he was, and made her wonder how her own experiences might be passed on in actions to her son.
It’s a wonderful graphic biography book and interesting history book, and a fabulous book about parents & children and relationships, and trauma.
I’m always in awe of people who can take their pain and experiences and feelings and create writing/art and here there are both. For most of the book I particularly enjoyed the text, even though the pictures were necessary and also wonderful. The one set of photos included deeply touched me.
I got an excellent feel for each of her parents and a really good sense of her, a bit less so of her siblings and more distant relatives and others, but the entire account was very satisfying. I also got a feel for daily life in various times and places. It’s a terrific refugee story, and given what’s going on in the U.S. these days with immigrants I hope that at least some people in power will read it.
The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was one of the first issues for which I protested and was an activist but reading the viewpoints presented here I learned so much more than I could have imagined I would, from the point of the Vietnamese war would continue whether the U.S. was there or not, yes of course, and also other things were said that made me think. I loved it.