Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey

Overview

A superb new graphic memoir in which an inspired artist/storyteller reveals the road that brought his family to where they are today: Vietnamerica
 
GB Tran is a young Vietnamese American artist who grew up distant from (and largely indifferent to) his family’s history. Born and raised in South Carolina as a son of immigrants, he knew that his parents had fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. But even as they struggled to adapt to life ...

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Vietnamerica

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Overview

A superb new graphic memoir in which an inspired artist/storyteller reveals the road that brought his family to where they are today: Vietnamerica
 
GB Tran is a young Vietnamese American artist who grew up distant from (and largely indifferent to) his family’s history. Born and raised in South Carolina as a son of immigrants, he knew that his parents had fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. But even as they struggled to adapt to life in America, they preferred to forget the past—and to focus on their children’s future. It was only in his late twenties that GB began to learn their extraordinary story. When his last surviving grandparents die within months of each other, GB visits Vietnam for the first time and begins to learn the tragic history of his family, and of the homeland they left behind.

In this family saga played out in the shadow of history, GB uncovers the root of his father’s remoteness and why his mother had remained in an often fractious marriage; why his grandfather had abandoned his own family to fight for the Viet Cong; why his grandmother had had an affair with a French soldier. GB learns that his parents had taken harrowing flight from Saigon during the final hours of the war not because they thought America was better but because they were afraid of what would happen if they stayed. They entered America—a foreign land they couldn’t even imagine—where family connections dissolved and shared history was lost within a span of a single generation.

In telling his family’s story, GB finds his own place in this saga of hardship and heroism. Vietnamerica is a visually stunning portrait of survival, escape, and reinvention—and of the gift of the American immigrants’ dream, passed on to their children. Vietnamerica is an unforgettable story of family revelation and reconnection—and a new graphic-memoir classic.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Like Art Spiegelman's Maus, this personal memoir tries to make sense of a shattered family history. Tran was born in America shortly after his family fled Vietnam during the fall of Saigon. However, he sees how deeply his parents still feel connected to their homeland, even as they can't fully admit their dismay at being cut off from it. They have been forced to keep many secrets from others, and learned to keep many secrets from themselves, too. By visiting Vietnam and exploring memories, Tran learns how his grandfather, a lifelong Vietminh supporter, was horrified at the brutal results of the Communist victory and how his father became a glum autocrat after his career as an artist was destroyed. He watches how his parents interact uneasily with the swarm of relatives and friends they left behind. Now Tran tries to make sense of it all. The comic utilizes a dizzying barrage of effects to depict the characters' confusing experience: different lettering styles, realistic action set against full-page government posters, sound effects swirling from panel to panel, action-packed panoramas breaking apart as South Vietnam collapses. The result is disturbing but also uplifting. (Jan.)
Library Journal
This will be called the Maus for the Vietnam War, and for good reason. Similar premise: clueless American-born son of immigrants confronts the legacy of family pain predating his birth. Says Tran's mom, "We left Vietnam so you would NEVER have to know what it's like"—that is, to be captured and tortured, or abandoned by partners, or to have to flee approaching troops. Similar outcome: a kick-in-the-gut graphic novel. Many in Tran's family each had several marriages or the equivalent: when your wife or husband disappears unexpectedly, you feed the children only by finding someone else, even a foreign officer. For Tran to work out the story of his parents' escape to America, he had to assemble hundreds of fragments from and about more than a dozen people. Thus he purposely fragments the plot, shifting points of view, narrative voices, and settings while the reader—as did Tran—must assemble the pieces to learn how his parents became the people he knew (a family tree mid-book helps). VERDICT Engaging, challenging, and disturbing, Tran's family memoir belongs in all public and academic libraries; older teens and up for occasionally strong language and violence. The swirly, jagged color art fits the story perfectly.—M.C.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345508720
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 1/25/2011
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 522,724
  • Product dimensions: 7.40 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gia-Bao (aka GB) Tran was born in South Carolina in 1976, a year after his parents fled Vietnam. He aspires to continue living the good life as a Brooklyn cartoonist/illustrator thanks, in large part, to the endless patience of his wife. His parents constantly remind him that if this “art thingy” doesn’t work out, he can, as the only family member born in the United States, be president instead.

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Sort by: Showing 1 Customer Reviews
  • Posted March 10, 2012

    I am almost too emotional right now to write this review. This i

    I am almost too emotional right now to write this review. This is because I am also a second-generation Vietnamese American who has been largely indifferent to my parents’ history until recently. GB’s family saga holds personal significance to me, because it brings into stark relief the generational and cultural divide that separates my own family. However, I believe that other readers without a similar background to the author will also be drawn to this visceral graphic memoir.

    Tran’s family journey jumps back and forth in time and place, spanning decades and continents. But the order in which he lays out the events feels familiar rather than confusing, as if you are there with him gathering the pieces to his family’s story. You are swept back to his grandparents’ and parents’ daily lives, and begin to understand the causes and events leading up to the Vietnam War. Tran is a genius at capturing emotions and facial expressions in his illustrations. Every color, line, and layout brings the desperation and destruction of war, as well as the complexity of human connections (and disconnections) to life. This isn’t just his family’s story, but the story of every family around the world touched by war and political corruption.

    I cried reading the final pages of this book, knowing that creating this book was a process of healing for GB Tran, and reading it has helped me on my own way to healing. Vietnamerica will give you a new perspective on the Vietnam War, being American, and what family really means. I borrowed this book from the library, but intend to purchase a copy. It is a story I must share with my family and our next generation.

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