The Best We Could Do
An Illustrated Memoir
2017 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.
Tracing her family's journey to the United States and their sometimes-uneasy adaptation to American life, Bui's magnificent memoir is not unique in its overall shape, but its details are: a bit of blood sausage in a time of famine, a chilly apartment, a father's sandals contrasted with his son's professional shoes. The story opens with the birth of Bui's son in New York City, and then goes back to Vietnam to trace the many births and stillbirths of her parents, and their eventual boat journey to the U.S. In excavating her family's trauma through these brief, luminous glimpses, Bui transmutes the base metal of war and struggle into gold. She does not spare her loved ones criticism or linger needlessly on their flaws. Likewise she refuses to flatten the twists and turns of their histories into neat, linear narratives. She embraces the whole of it: the misery of the Vietnam War, the alien land of America, and the liminal space she occupies, as the child with so much on her shoulders. In this m lange of comedy and tragedy, family love and brokenness, she finds beauty.
I loved the story, it was moving and it made me think about my own life. Growing up with parents who migrated to the US, and in the process being raised through the only way they knew how to show me love/ love me.
Easy to Read!
Thank you for writing and illustrating such an incredible comic book. I’ve never read comic books before and this was easy. I’ve been very into Vietnamese refugee stories as there’s not many out there and wished there were more. I can definitely relate. I definitely think it’s hard for my parents and my grandma to try and tell us these stories as it forces them to reminisce about the past. My grandma was always bitter and I never understood why until I thought about what she went through. The Japanese war definitely traumatized her, her mom hung herself shortly after her brother died from the heavy beatings from the communist. When my grandma moved to Vietnam she had to live through more wars before coming to the states. I’ve always known I’m incredibly blessed because of them, we definitely have it way easier. Thank you for sharing!
A new kind of oral history.
The legacy of the oral history as the memory book of collective experience is reimagined in this graphic novel. Through the illustrated representations, we get both a heart breaking and uplifting glimpse into the immigrant experience. With nothing left out but still preserving the space between for the imagination to fill in the blanks.
Thi Bui’s account of her family’s journey leaves you yearning to collect an oral or written history of your own family’s path to how you got here. And as she asks, leaves you wondering how much of the history ends up imbedded inside you? The beautiful, the sad, the incomplete? Additionally, what parts can you rewrite for the next generation?
That reimagining is particularly important when dealing with hidden traumas that were left I dealt with. As Bui imagines, these untold struggles become the demons that haunt the family through multiple generations. The very act of collecting and sharing these fears in this format is a sort of cathartic release from the PTSD of their life in Vietnam all the way through present day. A truly moving memoir.