The Best We Could Do brings to life author Thi Bui’s search for a better future while longing for a simpler past. This beautifully illustrated and emotional story explores the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family.
Alternating between the present, Bui’s own childhood in California, and the lives of her parents amid the chaos of the Vietnam War, Bui explores the saga of her country while trying to understand the history of her parents and grandparents. Their struggles and pain reflect the turmoil within a country that whiplashed the French Colonial rule to Communism to civil war in one generation.
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.
I think by now it’s no secret that I get utterly mesmerized with memoirs, particularly when told in the graphic novel format. So I was practically giddy with excitement and triumph when I received this finished copy in the mail courtesy of the publisher. Seriously, though, “beautiful” doesn’t even begin to encompass how exquisite and ethereal this graphic novel is in real life.
Speaking of which, the inside of it was just as eye-catching. Thi Bui’s dreamlike artwork, reminiscent of Mariko Tamaki’s This One Summer, beautifully and poignantly captures many quiet and loud moments, such as growing up, fitting in, and the connection between generations of family. (Aka all my favorite themes.)
But I couldn’t even begin to encompass the importance of this graphic novel in my own words, so I’ll let the images speak for themselves:
The darkly colored orange scheme fit so well into the overall narrative.
What she concluded in the last panel made my head spin with amazement.
Bui’s mom was superhuman throughout this journey, from taking care of her four kids – including a newborn baby – to helping people get to their gate on time… It was incredible to witness. Wonders will never cease.
The above is such a powerful page.
Needless to say, I got educated and enlightened a whole lot while reading this illustrated memoir told through the eyes of Bui’s family escaping the fall of South Vietnam and fighting to build a new life. The revelation of an often-untold side of the Vietnam War and of refugees trying to escape and create a better life is one I find vitally important, especially in this day and age. Plus, Bui’s storytelling skills are just phenomenal; I barely noticed time creeping by until I reached the ending in one sitting.
Tackling a wide range of evergreen issues, such as parenthood, immigration and displacement, I’d highly recommend you give this graphic novel a go!
ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Expected publication: March 7th, 2017