The Best We Could Do

An Illustrated Memoir By Thi Bui

Distributed By: Abrams Books

Reviewed by Melissa Minners

                I find the most interesting graphic novels on Netgalley.  This time around, I have found a memoir, written by a Vietnam War survivor whose family made their way to America shortly after the war. 

                The Best We Could Do begins in 2005 as Thi Bui is about to give birth to her first child.  The birth is difficult and, when her son finally arrives, she finds herself wondering just how her mother could bear to give birth six times.  She begins to think about her relationship with her family and finds it lacking somewhat.  She realizes that this has something to do with what they suffered to survive in Vietnam and their time as refugees before coming to America, but she can barely remember those years.

                The rest of Thiís familyís story, we learn in flashbacks narrated separately by her mother and father.  We learn how they met, how they became an unlikely couple fueled on by the opposition of their parents.  We learn how Thiís grandparents ahaped the people they would become even before her parents met each other.  We learn of the hardship of the war and, after the Americans pulled out, the hardships further endured by her parents as they lived in South Vietnam, the losing side. 

We learn of the difficulties of living under the reign of the Northern troops and how many times Thiís parents had tried to escape, but failed.  The final attempt was successful, but fraught with danger and near death.  We learn of the birth of Thiís brother while living in a refugee camp and the scarcity of food and other supplies.  It would seem, try as he might, Thiís father had difficulty bringing in resources and Thiís mother became the bread-winner in the refugee camps.  We learn of the trip to America and the difficulties experienced there as well.

The Best We Could Do features artwork by the author and features actual pictures of the members of Thiís family from Thiís own collection.  The artwork is actually fairly passable.  Sure, things arenít drawn perfectly to scale, but the characters are easily differentiated from each other.  I loved the inclusion of real photos along with the artwork, which lends to personalizing the story.  We realize that this isnít just a tale, but the true story of someone who has lived it.  The storyline is compelling and captivating.  I needed to know what would happen to this family next.  A definite page-turner.

Most important though, are the lessons taught by this familyís struggle for a dream of happiness.  Thi Bui learns just how much of a sacrifice it is to be a parent Ė to attain just the simple things for your children, you may be willing to sacrifice your own morality.  The struggles of Thiís grandparents and parents have shaped the family, but also taught them what is important in life.  Material things matter less than the people you love and keep around you.  Thi also learned a valuable lesson as to the ways her familyís life in Vietnam shaped their relationship with one another and even with her. 

The Best We Could Do is an emotional rollercoaster ride, filled with ups and downs as Thi uncovers more of her familyís past.  Though there is a little jumping around in the graphic novel, the story is easily followed and quite enlightening.  A great read!


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