The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

My Rating: 5 stars

I read The Best We Could Do for my graphic narratives course, and I must say, it’s absolutely stunning. It tells the story of Bui’s family as they lived through the Vietnam War and immigrated to the United States as refugees. They don’t really teach us anything about Vietnam in US schools (that’s a rant for another day), so I knew nothing about it going into the book. I learned so much from it, both about Vietnam’s general history and specifically about the war. She provides a little timeline at the beginning as an overview then delves deeper as she tells her family’s history. This is one of the most important books I’ve read this year because of how much I learned from it.

The story itself is both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. I loved that Bui frames it with the birth of her son and enters into her family story through her mother giving birth. It worked so well since the whole story is about family and relationships. I was impressed with how Bui handles the many, many threads of the book; there are so many little details about her parents’ childhoods, the effects of French colonization on Vietnam, the rise of communism, refugee camps, and the immigrant experience in the US. All of it is woven together seamlessly with Bui’s own childhood to give a full account of the family. The result is both beautiful and powerful.

And we must, of course, talk about the art itself, which absolutely blew me away. I loved Bui’s drawing style, but what really struck me was the color. Based on the cover, I thought she would mainly use pale blues and reds, but the whole book is colored in a rusty orange. It’s so striking! I ended up doing a whole presentation on it for my course and it sparked some excellent class discussion on the purpose of the color. On just an aesthetic level, it makes the book particularly unique as well as beautiful to read.

Overall, this is a gorgeous graphic memoir that I think everyone should check out. It’s an important story about family and trauma, and it’s an excellent way to start learning about a war that simply isn’t discussed in many places.

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