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.


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Last Updated on March 25, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 615

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.

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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...

(The entire section contains 615 words.)

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