The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
Publication: 07.03.2017 by Abrams ComicArts
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir, Graphic
Rating: 4/5 stars
I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion in any way.
Synopsis: 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.
When I saw this on Netgalley, I immediately wanted it. Not only do I want to read more graphic novels, I also want to read more non-fiction and diverse (+own voices) books. This graphic memoir combines all three into one spectacular book.
I think this is the type of (non fiction) book I would recommend to everyone. Here’s why:
- Because this is an illustrated memoir, it is very easy to read. It doesn’t feel like you’re trying to make your way through 2573365 different facts. You just don’t get as overwhelmed by non fiction when it’s in a graphic form.
- It’s a diverse and own voices book.
- The art is absolutely stunning. It has this watercolor aspect to it that I found so gorgeous. It’s all in the red-orange color you see on the cover. So the pages are black and white usually, with the red watercolor making its way through.
- It taught me so much about Vietnam, from the perspective of both Thi Bui, and her parents and grandparents. I think that’s really great, because she showed how each generation’s view on the country is quite different.
Do you see why you need to read it too? It’s well worth your time, I promise.
If you don’t know, this is a memoir of Thi Bui’s life. She escaped (is this the right word? I don’t really know) Vietnam with her family during the 1970s when she was just a child. Therefore, most of her actual memories are from her life in the US. I think this book is both a search for memories of life in Vietnam, and her finding her place in an American and Vietnamese culture. She explores her life, that of her siblings, but also that of her parents and grandparents in Vietnam -and what they did when they arrived in the US.
Like I mentioned before, this book taught me so much about Vietnam. As a Belgian, I’m sad to say that I had almost no prior knowledge of Vietnam? We don’t really cover it in our history classes, so I didn’t even have a basic knowledge to fall back on. That’s why I find it so important to diversify my reading: I want to learn more about other cultures, countries, and people’s experiences.
I have to say that this book felt very sad to me. Thi Bui’s family has seen a lot of dark times, and it’s not always easy to be the ones to survive either. What really struck me is when she said that she’d always have the refugee reflex: to always be able to flee/run with your important things much faster and calmer than other people would. Because you’ve been through it so many times. And that makes me so infinitely sad.
She doesn’t shy away from addressing the hard topics, such as not getting along with family -and/or not understanding them. I feel like this memoir is her way of trying to understand her mom, dad and grandparents. It’s her trying to understand the country she came from, but didn’t really grow up in.
The only downside of this book is that I had to seriously pay attention to the timeline, or get confused. She sometimes goes back 20 years in time, then 30, then back to current times, etc. For example, she’d follow her dad’s life, then her granddad’s and suddenly we’re back to them arriving in the U.S. Because I wasn’t familiar with Vietnam’s history, the “non-chronological” parts made it a bit hard to follow at times.
I’d honestly recommend this to everyone. It’s touching. It’s informative. It’s sad, but also has hope. It’s beautiful, thanks to the artwork. It’s a story that deserves to be read.