Review: The Best We Could Do, by Thi Bui

Review by Emma Statt

Get ready to take your heart on your emotional roller coaster. The graphic novel The Best We Could Do has been praised by the Pulitzer Prize- winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen as, “a book to break your heart and heal it.” Indeed, this National bestseller is a beautifully illustrated memoir describing the life of a Vietnamese immigrant Thi Bui. The novel begins in the hospital, showing the emotional scene of Thi giving birth. The raw emotions of this beautiful moment are meticulously represented through the illustrations. The story follows Thi’s narrative of her life in chronological order. She recalls episodes from her childhood and the various traumas she faced being a child of parents who themselves were traumatized by their experiences of war and immigration. To tell her own story, Thi embarks on a research trail following her parents’ lives and how they ended up in America. She opens buried memories, stories that were hidden in her and her family’s hearts, and confronts memories that have caused agony to her family. The novel demonstrates that to understand one’s heritage, and perhaps make amends for past choices, it is important to allow these painful stories to be told.  As Thi recounts her family’s struggles to survive in war-torn Vietnam, she begins to grasp the anguish of their move to America and the struggles they faced as new immigrants. The displacement Thi talks about in her novel is personal, heartbreaking, and powerful. This graphic memoir will take you on an emotional journey like no other. I do not have enough words to describe this book. I have never felt so invested in the life of someone I have never met. 

The Best We Could Do offers an insight on the ways in which the Vietnam war threw many Vietnamese families in extreme turmoil. It talks about the hardships these families faced after immigrating to America. The book will check your privilege and draw you into a family dynamic that you may have never experienced before. You can tell that this novel took years to make. Thi wanted to be accurate about her family’s past, while being authentic and illustrating her personal narrative. Her emotional commitment to this autobiography is one power that draws the audience further in; the story is another. I find that graphic novels often have more to say than a whole page of text. I would recommend this novel to anybody open to experiencing a different perspective on life in America. 

The Best We Could Do. (2017). Bui, Thi. Abrams ComicArts.

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