Analysis

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Last Updated on June 27, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 302

With the birth of her son, graphic novelist Thi Bui found a new place for herself in the four-generation family line that she traces in The Best We Could Do. With a different sense of self as an adult, which came from not just being someone else’s child, Bui gained empathy for her own parents. Having been a child when they emigrated from Vietnam, she had focused her energies on growing up in US culture. As an adult, however, her curiosity grew about how their earlier lives had shaped them as their own people, not just in relation to her.

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Bui effectively uses the graphic novel medium to probe questions of identity, assimilation, and culture shock, against the political backdrop of US policy gone awry. She found her emotional distance from her mother’s privileged upbringing especially difficult to bridge, as their own household lacked the elegance and servants about which her mother reminisced. Probing deeper, however, stories of abuse and abandonment also surfaced, which Bui juxtaposes to her own memories of the support—albeit sometimes unspoken—that her parents provided her in their new American life.

Although she came late to the comics format that she has mastered—she was over thirty when she started to draw—Bui soon realized that strong visual memories were integral to her stories and that setting them aside would hinder her from fully telling them. Not just another "melting pot memoir," the uniqueness of this work makes a strong case for the singularity of each immigrant’s experience. The intricate, ever-changing relationships among her family members and other community members are vividly evoked in the finely detailed episodes. Despite the broad-strokes commonalities among thousands of Vietnamese people expelled by the war, Bui clearly shows, each person forged their new identity in a different way.

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