Monday, June 26, 2017

Book Review: The Best We Could Do

     Thi Bui's biographical graphic novel The Best We Could Do explores a wide variety of themes and emotions. The story spans multiple generations of one Vietnamese-American family, from the good times in their homeland, through the war, to the modern day in the USA.
     At its root the story is not just a story of immigrants, but a story about family, and about what it really means to be the adult child of a parent. Bui raises the big questions: do we ever really know our parents? How do you know you're really an adult, and do we ever really "grow up?" What is a woman's role in life, and what does it mean to be an American, especially if you are not born in America?  Do we ever really find the answers to any of these questions?
     I have to say, as a first generation immigrant myself, this story hit very close to home. Granted I did not come from a war-torn country (though there is an enormous amount of violence in my homeland) and my parents moved us to a nice, safe, rural area and not a huge city. But I can definitely relate to the author's parents paranoia... never quite feeling safe, never quite feeling American, never quite trusting "white people" and never really giving up the hope that maybe someday things will change enough that they could go back home. I think my parents have always felt that way, even after 30 years in the USA. Of course I also relate to the author's struggles as their child... parents, family and culture pulling you in one direction, never wanting you to forget your roots and desperately wanting you to maintain the old ways while you try your hardest to fit in to the new culture... a culture that is so strange and different to them. Always feeling like you are an outsider to BOTH cultures and never really fitting in anywhere no matter how hard you try.
    Beautifully illustrated in shades of blue and orange throughout, honest and stark, the story is moving, at times amusing and very relate-able even for those who have never been through the immigrant experience.
    Final verdict: 4/5 bookmarks

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