The Best We Could Do Themes

The main themes in The Best We Could Do include the refugee experience, parents and children, and inheritance and trauma.

  • The refugee experience: After the war, the Bui family flee Vietnam and rise to the challenge of creating a new life for themselves in the United States.
  • Parents and children: As she tells her parents' stories, Thi Bui reflects upon the experience of becoming a parent while still being her parents' child.
  • Inheritance and trauma: Bui reflects on the effect the trauma of war has had on her family and herself, wondering how much of this inheritance she will pass on to her son.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 621

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, explores several themes that were present in Bui's upbringing and remain present in her adult life. Below are a few of the most prominent ones.

The Refugee Experience

In The Best We Could Do , Bui explores her family history...

(The entire section contains 621 words.)

See This Study Guide Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this study guide. You'll also get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Thi Bui’s graphic memoir, The Best We Could Do, explores several themes that were present in Bui's upbringing and remain present in her adult life. Below are a few of the most prominent ones.

The Refugee Experience

In The Best We Could Do, Bui explores her family history and her experience growing up in the US after fleeing violence in Vietnam with her family. She and her parents and siblings immigrated to the US in search of a better life in the late 1970s, after the end of the Vietnam War. The story covers the struggles Bui and her family encountered starting from scratch in a foreign country. In her book, Bui both documents her parents’ stories and rediscovers her own.

Parents and Children

At the beginning of the memoir, Bui gives birth to her first child, and she writes of the lessons that she learns as a first-time parent. She reflects on her parents’ experiences in Vietnam and as refugees, as well as on her own struggle to reconcile her identity as a child with her new identity as a parent. She discusses the sacrifices she must make for her son and the endless love she feels for him.

Inheritance and Trauma

Bui also explores the theme of inheritance. This does not mean what Bui inherits financially from her parents but, instead, how much of her identity she has inherited from them. In particular, she explores the idea of inherited trauma, something she hopes to avoid passing on to her son.

How much of ME is my own, and how much is stamped into my blood and bone, presented? I used to imagine that history had infused my parents' lives with the dust of a cataclysmic explosion. That it had seeped through their skin and become part of their blood. That being my father's child, I, too, was a product of war . . . and being my mother's child, could never measure up to her. But maybe being their child simply means that I will always feel the weight of their past.

Finding Home

In the wake of the war, Bui and her family must leave the place they call home, South Vietnam, and make a home in a new country—first in Chicago and then in San Diego, California. They struggle with new and different foods, smells, and sounds and must learn a new language. After giving birth to her son, Bui realizes that home is where her family is.

In my sleep, I dreamt of how terrible it would be to not find my way home.
My parents built their bubble around us—our home in America.

The Complexity of Family

Another significant theme is the complexity of family. By interviewing her parents and visiting Vietnam, Bui looks into the history of her family so that she can feel a stronger emotional connection with them. She writes that although her family is geographically close, they are not emotionally close:

Travis and I moved to California in 2006 to raise our son near family—trading the life we had built and loved in New York for a notion I had in my head of becoming closer to my parents as an adult. I don't know exactly what it looks like, but I recognize what it is NOT, and now I understand—proximity and closeness are not the same.

The Search for Identity

Bui must come to terms with her changing identity as both child and parent, Vietnamese and American. She finds that she disagrees with and does not fit neatly into American culture in many ways, but she finds a place for herself in America on her own terms:

And imagine each block, each day turned us a little more American.
Illustration of PDF document

Download The Best We Could Do Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapter Summaries