The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui is a graphic memoir about the struggles Bui’s family faced in Vietnam, their subsequent immigration to the United States, and the challenges they faced in adjusting to their new country. Bui’s entrance into motherhood is the catalyst that prompts her to seek a better understanding of her parents—their lives in Vietnam, why and how they escaped from their homeland, and the sacrifices they made to build a new life for themselves and their children in America. As a result of her exploration, she learns what it means to be a parent.
Although Bui describes the oppression and discrimination suffered by her family as civilians in Vietnam and then as immigrants in the U.S., her description seems detached, almost bordering on being clinical. It is as if she were describing their experiences through a veneer. There is such little depth to the characterization that it barely scrapes the surface. As a result, it is difficult to connect with any of the characters. This detachment may have been intentional on the author’s part, but it places a heavy burden on the reader to be interested in the outcome. The sketchy characterization, disjointed dialogue, and snippets of information dropped here and there were not helped by a narrative that jumped from one location to another, from one time to another. The art work, while quite good, might have profited by being less monochromatic.
I sympathize with the author and her family for all the hardships they experienced. I just wish the memoir could have been more compelling.