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The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series 2022 Reads

As always, I’m posting this at some point weeks after reading the book. This one, I was happy to run across by chance in as an available ebook on the National Library website. 


Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do is a multigenerational memoir of her family’s experiences—of the history of Vietnam (both during the colonial era and the Vietnam War)—and of their emigration to America, and how the past reverberates through the present, how the further past reverberates through the more recent past. 

It’s pretty inspiring that she decided to learn how to draw comics in order to write the book! (She’d never drawn a comic before starting to work on the book.) It rather drives home that commitment to a creative project and passion for the project can help you achieve so much. 

I will admit that the genre in which she’s working in isn’t really something I read a lot. I think there’s a limit to how many intergenerational memoirs of trauma and immigration a person can read before they start to blur together….but the meditation on what it is we inherit from our parents and pass on to our children, and what it is that binds us to our parents and our children to us, that’s where she ends things, and that was a compelling destination. I think the author’s comment in a recent video that this is an American story, as much as it is a story of immigration or the refugee experience, is valid, obviously; I think on some level, the fact she comments on these meditations overtly makes it more interesting somehow. 

In any case, The Best We Could Do was engrossing and has made me curious to see what else she’s done. I really hope to check out her other work, such as A Different Pond (which she did in collaboration with Bao Phi) and especially Chicken of the Sea (written by Viet Thanh Nguyen and Ellison Nguyen (age 6 at the time), and illustrated by Thi Bui with her son Hien Bui-Stafford, who was age 13 at the time). 

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