Work, life, and the world seemingly crumbling around my ears have certainly amplified my anxiety and nearly stifled my ability to write thoughtful reviews. Alas, the books I’ve been reading deserve better; they deserve a place on this little virtual shelf. And so I muster a moment of focus to shine a light on a treasure.
In keeping with my current concerns and fears about the place of immigrants and immigration in today’s unwelcoming waters, I was heartened to spend a few hours with Thi Bui’s debut, “The Best We Could Do”. This forthcoming graphic novel is an immigrant story full of heartache and small joys, crafted with beautiful confidence and strength. Thi Bui’s measured words and her movingly monochromatic drawings bring to life the struggles and strengths of her family, from their turbulent existence in war-torn Vietnam in the 1970s through their lives as immigrants in modern America.
“The Best We Could Do” covers so much ground, flooded with emotion and insight. Bui seems to be learning along with her reader; the book feels like it is as much process as product, a journey to a deeper understanding of Bui’s parents and herself. Some of her most poignant lines and images are about her ‘inheritance’ from her refugee parents.
“What has worried me since having my own child was whether I would pass along some gene for sorrow or unintentionally inflict damage I could never undo.”
“This – not any particular piece of Vietnamese culture – is my inheritance: the inexplicable need and extraordinary ability to RUN when the shit hits the fan. My Refugee Reflex.”
Bui exposes her parents’ deep sadness, their traumas and fears, with breathtaking brevity.
Thi Bui’s story is both intimate and universal. It is about love and sacrifice, war and fear, identity and place. Read it, absorb it, be moved by it.
“The Best We Could Do” by Thi Bui will be published on March 7, 2017. Thank you to Abrams ComicArts for the complimentary copy in exchange for a fair and honest review.