The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
National bestseller2017 National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Finalist ABA Indies Introduce Winter / Spring 2017 Selection Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Spring 2017 Selection ALA 2018 Notable Books Selection An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui. This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. 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. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.
Thi Bui was born in Vietnam three months before the end of the Vietnam War, and came to the United States in 1978 as part of the “boat people” wave of refugees from Southeast Asia. Her debut graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do (Abrams ComicArts, 2017), has been selected as UCLA’s Common Book for 2017, a National Book Critics Circle finalist in autobiography, an Eisner Award finalist in Reality Based Comics, and made several Best of 2017 book lists, including Bill Gates’s top five picks. Bui is also the Caldecott Honor-winning illustrator of A Different Pond, a picture book by the poet Bao Phi (Capstone, 2017). Her short comics can be found online at the Nib, PEN America, and BOOM California. She is currently researching and drawing a work of graphic nonfiction about how Asian American Pacific Islanders are impacted by detention and deportation, to be published by One World, Random House. Bui taught high school in New York City and was a founding teacher of Oakland International High School, the first public high school in California for recent immigrants and English learners. Since 2015, she has been a faculty member of the MFA in Comics program at the California College of the Arts. Thi Bui lives in the Bay Area.
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir 4.3 out of 5based on
More than 1 year ago
A complexed story of family love told in a moving and beautiful way — got me in tears!
More than 1 year ago
A graphic memoir of the Bui family written and illustrated by their youngest daughter, Thi. The Bui family immigrated to the U.S. as the Vietnam War ended in the 1970s. It chronicles the family’s struggle to make a new life for themselves in a country far different from the one they left behind. It’s a story of one family’s overcoming adversity, their resilience and their ultimate survival. It’s also about the author’s personal journey to understand her parents and what made them who they are and in the process bring herself closer to them. Her beautiful drawings really add to the story and convey a depth of emotion.
More than 1 year ago
[I am choosing to review this graphic novel voluntarily after I received it from Abrams books as part of a giveaway]
"The struggle to bring life into this world is rewarded by [the cry of a baby]. It is a single minded effort uncluttered and clear in it's objective. What follows afterward- that is, the rest of the child's life - is another story."
Thi Bui and her family were refugees from Vietnam at the end of the War. Through her drawings and writing which she began in order to understand her roots in the story of her parents, the heartbreaking descriptions of fleeing her homeland and the hope for a better life in a country who was in part the reason she had to flee to be able to have a chance of any kind.
This is the story of Bui and her family and how they diligently survived in Vietnam and escaped to America. It is seen and told through the eyes of a woman with a son of her own who began to understand just what survival and thriving is to a refugee family cobbled together and torn apart by conflicts both public and private over life spans is a labyrinth of war and peace, money and poverty, mercy and anger.
Sparse prose and beautiful drawn graphics haunt the reader as the story unfolds and reflects courage and despair. The cover calls this book "an illustrated memoir" that her publisher presents in lovely format. This is a much different kind of graphic memory that will stay with you in its simplicity and haunt you with its beauty. 4 stars
More than 1 year ago
The novel begins with a detail account of Thi Bui giving birth to her son. Her mother arrives to help her through this process yet, she stands outside the door, unable to do anything to help her. This mother who had high expectations when she arrived and had given birth to children herself, stands outside the door, her face distorted. I enjoyed the way Thi Bui describes her labor and the events that followed. I knew by reading these opening pages that her memoir would be filled with detailed events that shaped her life and the emotions would run high.
The novel shifted around in different time periods but the chapter headings kept me focused. As Thi Bui thinks about her own family she reflects back to what her own parent’s experienced when they were younger. I learned about Thi Bui family and quite an extensive amount of historical information about Vietnam while reading this novel. I also learned how Thi Bui family managed during the war activities during this time period. It was quite the story, and I am sure my face reflected those in the novel as they faced more hardships than joy as endurance seemed to be the key during many of their struggles. I liked the fact that she sees her families struggles as a part of who she is. As she now struggles as a new parent, it is just the beginning and a part of life. I also enjoyed how smoothly the illustrations took me through her life. For a memoir, I thought this was a terrific way of making a tribute to her own life and to the others in it. I enjoyed looking at the illustrations, they were wonderful and I liked that there was not a lot of color used. It’s a great graphic novel and one you should check out.
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