Title: The Best We Could Do
Author: Thi Bui
Genre: graphic novel; autobiography; memoir; history; oral history
Synopsis: (from Goodreads) The Best We Could Do, the debut graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui, is an intimate look at one family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. 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. The Best We Could Do brings to life her journey of understanding and provides inspiration to all who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.
Review: 4/5 stars
Bui’s graphic novel is “one that will break your heart and heal it.” I went into this book not quite sure what to expect, but I was blown away by the art, the style, and the story. Bui does not pull any punches. Her first chapter is called “Labor” and she details out the process and immediately creates these strong familial bonds in her writing and art. Each panel expresses so much, and because she uses just one color to accent – it fills each page with intensity and clarity.
This book reads more like a love letter to the self and to family than it does anything else, in my opinion. She, upon having her first child, realizes that she has created something monumental. This act then allows her to process, or go through the process, of memory work. By looking back on her own memories, and asking her parents about those, it’s almost as if she’s trying to figure out a way to forgive so that she can be whole for her son.
I loved enjoying this book for many reasons, but one of the major ones was that she sought to listen for understanding when recording her parents’ stories. Her experience growing up was vastly different than theirs, but she, in listening, learned why her parents made the choices they made, and acted as they did. It’s not written in a way that excuses anything, it just is. And that’s beautiful.