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The Best We Could Do

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The Best We Could Do, the debut graphic novel memoir by Thi Bui, is an intimate look at one family's journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family's daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui's story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent — the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through.

With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. The Best We Could Do brings to life her journey of understanding and provides inspiration to all who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

329 pages, Hardcover

First published March 7, 2017

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About the author

Thi Bui

17 books507 followers
Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and immigrated to the United States as a child. She studied art and law and thought about becoming a civil rights lawyer, but became a public school teacher instead. Bui lives in Berkeley, California, with her son, her husband, and her mother. The Best We Could Do is her debut graphic novel.

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5 stars
16,233 (50%)
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156 (<1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 4,553 reviews
Profile Image for Zoë.
328 reviews66.2k followers
March 7, 2019
I read this for my Asian-American studies class, and our discussion made me enjoy this book even more! A school book I actually enjoyed? I know! I'm surprised too!
At first, I wasn't too big of a fan of the art style. However, after analyzing why Thi Bui illustrated it the way she did, I think it was perfect for the story. Truthfully, I don't know too much about the Vietnam War except for the few things I remember from 12th grade history class. This was a wonderfully intimate look at her family's experience during this time. Really recommend!
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews16 followers
June 16, 2017
I still remember how I felt the first time I read the graphic memoir "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant", by Roz Chast. I wanted the world to read it...
I laughed. I cried. I laughed and cried at the same time! And by the way.... I felt it should be required reading for anyone who had aging parents! Both my parents were dead - and I still got value 'as' a mother: not wanting to leave my own daughters a mess to deal with after I die.

Later, I read "Maus" by Art Spiegelman. I got so deeply involved with these books - I own all of them - plus a DVD audio of historical documents and interviews.
My god - MEMOIR GRAPHICS on steroids... UNBELIEVABLE!!! How any one person created what he did is mind boggling.

I bring these two books up - both GRAPHIC MEMOIRS - because I think they could both become CLASSIC GRAPHIC NOVEL'S ....if there is such a thing.
Some books we should read in schools - read in temples - in Church - in Spiritual Communities - in 'Reading Communities' -in families ( as important as having a cell phone) --and some books in ALL THESE PLACES.

ADDING "The Best We Can Do", by Thi Bui.... with Roz Chast, and Art Spieglman.... is THIS TYPE of MEMOIR. Forgive me for not mentioning other books that belong in group. I'm SURE THERE ARE MORE!!!!
In fact... I'd love to hear of other GRAPHIC MEMOIR or GRAPHIC HISTORY or HISTORICAL HISTORY books that readers feel are important.

"The Best We Can Do"

The visual art...watercolors are beautifully expressive -- absolutely equally is as vital as the 'written word' -- creating a soulful experience!


I appreciate the 'years' of research that went into this book.
"The seeds of this book were planted around 2002, when I was a graduate student and took a detour from my art education training to get lost in the world of oral history. The transcripts and my family stories (and the clumsy, homemade book that I produced), from that time we're more meaningful than any art I had made before. I was trying to understand the forces that caused my family, in the late 70s to flee one country and start over in another."

Thi Bui went exploring- researching and interviewing within her own family to search for memories in Vietnam about her mom --about her dad--about her grandparents --about her siblings --about herself. Given that she was only five years of age when she came to the United States during the 70's., she was trying to understand Vietnam the way her parents did.
Thi Bui was also trying understand the ongoing battles she continued to live with between she and her mother: effects that displacement put on her and her family. This story is often so sad. What is sad to me - is not only what we learn from Thi Bui...but also from what she doesn't tell us. This morning - I re-read the book - and felt sad - again. It feels as though Thi Bui held something back.
When Roz Chast was angry at her mother -- ( who had died), --my god I felt it deeply in my gut....
but I can't help but wonder ( and it's alright - just sad and part of THIS story), if perhaps Thi Bui was a little afraid to be FULLY EXPRESSIVE in her own memoir. Yikes, the guts it had to take to write what she did with her mother STILL ALIVE AND LIVING WITH HER TODAY!!! It's brave to write a memoir about one's mother when they are alive!!!!! NO MATTER WHAT COUNTRY you live in - displaced or not displaced.

Thi Bui WAS AlSO WORKING IN A SCHOOL FOR 7 years working with IMMIGRANTS-- MUCH OF THE TIME WHILE WRITING THIS BOOK.... an alternative High School in Oakland for immigrants.... which she helped start. Yikes.... no wonder it took 15 years before this book landed in our hands. Besides her time divided between being a wife, a new mother, teacher, a daughter, ( her mother living in the same house), --she was writing words AND drawing pictures?/!!!!! Man....."hallelujah"!!!!! That's an accomplishment......
Plus......'add' the emotional component!

"It was difficult to carve out time and headspace to work on something that not only required a lot of historical research, but was also intensely personal and at times painful. I often wanted to quit."
You think? NO KIDDING!! I get it!!!! .....but so glad Thi Bui didn't quit. Thank you Thi!!!!

She goes on to say.....( before she had chosen a title for this book) ......"I gave my book the name "REFUGEE REFLEX". Having lived through the RUN/FLEE experience...it would always be a part of her. No, Bui's suitcase is not packed this very moment....
but I can't help but be concerned about our current immigration issues - and worry for those who do have bags packed praying they won't be needed.

I'll leave you with what I'm left with.... Thi Bui lives in Berkeley California with her husband, her son, and her mother. This story began with Thi giving birth to her son in THIS COUNTRY FOR A REASON......

Bui gave us an experience of a single-family across three generations.... each having a different perspective about Vietnam. As for herself, she understands enough about Vietnam's history to know that "the ground beneath my parents feet had always been shifting..... so that by the time I was born, Vietnam was not my country at all. I was only a small part of it."

What had worried Bui is........
......would she unintentionally inflict damage, pass on a gene of sorrow to her son.
When she looks into his 10 year old eyes .... she doesn't see war and loss. And thinks....."maybe he can be free".

Profile Image for Mischenko.
1,014 reviews97 followers
February 8, 2018
This book is featured on Throwback Thursday @ https://readrantrockandroll.com/2018/...

I picked this up from Netgalley as soon as I learned about it. I love reading graphic novels and this one piqued my interest after reading the blurb. I had already read A Different Pond with my kids and loved that one, so I had a good feeling about The Best We Could Do.

This is an extremely moving graphic novel about a family’s immigration from Vietnam and how they do the best they can to make a living in a new country. Thi Bui is learning to understand her parents past as she has now become a mother herself in America.

“Má leaves me but I’m not alone, and a terrifying thought creeps into my head. Family is now something I have created and not just something I was born into.”

She wants to understand her families history and she eventually discovers her parents past along with her own childhood. I found it so powerful, eye-opening, thought-provoking, and couldn’t help getting emotional during the reading. I enjoyed it immensely and the artwork is amazing. I would recommend it to anyone.
Profile Image for Julie G .
883 reviews2,752 followers
May 8, 2022
This graphic novel dropped like a napalm bomb on me.

Fitting, given the subject matter: a family's multi-generational struggle to live during tumultuous times in Vietnam and ultimately flee the country to take refuge in the United States.

It's a big book, one that took the author and illustrator, Thi Bui, years to complete, and it must have been painful to produce as well. In my opinion, this is not a graphic novel for children, nor is it YA. The author's father had a habit of scaring his kids with harrowing true stories of rape and murder during the Vietnam War, and several of them are shared here. This is a story for adults, and not all adults will be comfortable with this material, either.

Personally, I've been fascinated by the situation in Vietnam since I was in college, and I was surprised and comforted to find that the author, who was born in that country and had to leave it as a child with her family, doesn't really understand the conflicts in Vietnam much better than I do. Even after doing independent research and interviewing family members, she had an observation like this one, after talking to her father:

Wait. Does he hate the general or is he defending him? Did he like communism or not? The contradiction in my father's stories troubled me for a long time. But so did the oversimplifications and stereotypes in American versions of the Vietnam War.

Yes, it's all (still) confusing to me, too, and I think Ms. Bui was brilliant at capturing this confusion well in the color palette she used for a war-torn Vietnam: orange, black and white.

The greatest surprise for me in this illustrated memoir was the author's discovery that war only exaggerates the instances of dysfunction and “generational sins” in families. Meaning: many of us struggle with these issues within our families, regardless of the presence of war, but in big drama you are more clearly able to see big trauma. I learned a few painful lessons while reading this, and I can only express gratitude toward Thi Bui for having the courage to share the findings from her “time travels.” She journeys, bravely, from her recent past, back to grandparents, on to parents, back again to the present day, then starts all over again. The “starts” and “stops” are sometimes jarring, and I'm not sure I'd call this story “pleasurable,” but I'd certainly call it valuable.

Profile Image for Nat.
554 reviews3,178 followers
August 2, 2018
The Best We Could Do brings to life author Thi Bui’s search for a better future while longing for a simpler past. This beautifully illustrated and emotional story explores the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family.

Alternating between the present, Bui's own childhood in California, and the lives of her parents amid the chaos of the Vietnam War, Bui explores the saga of her country while trying to understand the history of her parents and grandparents. Their struggles and pain reflect the turmoil within a country that whiplashed the French Colonial rule to Communism to civil war in one generation. 

At the heart of Bui's story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love.

I think by now it's no secret that I get utterly mesmerized with memoirs, particularly when told in the graphic novel format. So I was practically giddy with excitement and triumph when I received this finished copy in the mail courtesy of the publisher. Seriously, though, "beautiful" doesn't even begin to encompass how exquisite and ethereal this graphic novel is in real life.


Speaking of which, the inside of it was just as eye-catching. Thi Bui's dreamlike artwork, reminiscent of Mariko Tamaki's This One Summer, beautifully and poignantly captures many quiet and loud moments, such as growing up, fitting in, and the connection between generations of family. (Aka all my favorite themes.)

But I couldn’t even begin to encompass the importance of this graphic novel in my own words, so I'll let the images speak for themselves:

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The darkly colored orange scheme fit so well into the overall narrative.

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What she concluded in the last panel made my head spin with amazement.

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Bui's mom was superhuman throughout this journey, from taking care of her four kids - including a newborn baby - to helping people get to their gate on time... It was incredible to witness. Wonders will never cease.

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The above is such a powerful page.
Needless to say, I got educated and enlightened a whole lot while reading this illustrated memoir told through the eyes of Bui's family escaping the fall of South Vietnam and fighting to build a new life. The revelation of an often-untold side of the Vietnam War and of refugees trying to escape and create a better life is one I find vitally important, especially in this day and age. Plus, Bui's storytelling skills are just phenomenal; I barely noticed time creeping by until I reached the ending in one sitting.

Tackling a wide range of evergreen issues, such as parenthood, immigration and displacement, I'd highly recommend you give this graphic novel a go!

ARC kindly provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Expected publication: March 7th, 2017

5/5 stars

Note: I'm an Amazon Affiliate. If you're interested in buying The Best We Could Do, just click on the image below to go through my link. I'll make a small commission!

Support creators you love. Buy a Coffee for nat (bookspoils) with Ko-fi.com/bookspoils
Profile Image for emma.
1,825 reviews48.5k followers
June 19, 2021
somehow the art isn't even the most stunning part of this book.

and seriously, look at the art. that's saying something.

this is just a stunner and that's all there is to it!

bottom line: read it already.


i'm a simple girl. ali wong recommends, i read.


taking lily's idea and reading only books by asian authors this month!

book 1: the incendiaries
book 2: last night at the telegraph club
book 3: dear girls
book 4: sigh, gone
book 5: frankly in love
book 6: emergency contact
book 7: your house will pay
book 8: convenience store woman
book 9: on earth we're briefly gorgeous
book 10: we are not free
book 11: searching for sylvie lee
book 12: the displaced
book 13: schoolgirl
book 14: sweet bean paste
book 15: little fires everywhere
book 16: trust exercise
book 17: front desk
book 18: the bride test
book 19: interior chinatown
book 20: it's not like it's a secret
book 21: almost american girl
book 22: never let me go
book 23: prairie lotus
book 24: earthlings
book 25: a pho love story
book 26: love, hate & other filters
book 27: the best we could do
Profile Image for Taryn.
325 reviews299 followers
March 12, 2017
Empathetic, honest, and emotional. A gorgeously illustrated memoir of a woman who looks to the past to understand her parents and her complicated relationship with them. In 1978, Thi Bui's parents fled South Vietnam with three young children and one on the way. The Best We Could Do tells the story of them growing up in Vietnam, raising a family in the midst of the Vietnam War, their harrowing nighttime escape by boat, and the difficulties of starting a new life in the United States. The tale begins and ends with the birth of Thi's first baby. After experiencing the overwhelming responsibility and protective instinct towards her newborn, she sees her parents from a completely different perspective.

FAMILY is now something I have created, and not just something I was born into.

Bui reveals some instances from growing up that widened the gap between parent and child and kept her from feeling safe and secure. Once her parents' backgrounds are revealed, these stories have a different sheen to them. We see how their pasts shaped who they are and influenced what lessons they felt were important to impart. Bui's mother and father had completely different childhoods. Their backgrounds were so different that I was really interested to see what circumstances brought them together. Her mother grew up in a wealthy household in the relative safety of South Vietnam, while her father grew up in poverty in conflict-ridden North Vietnam. We get to see them grow up as young people with hopes and dreams, and then later as adults who have suffered immense heartache together.

We weren’t any of the pieces on the chessboard. We were more like ants scrambling out of the way of giants, getting just far enough from danger to resume the business of living.

The specifics of Vietnam's history with colonization and conflict are given for context, but more importantly, this book shows what it's like to live day-to-day in those conditions. War and its effects don't stop when foreign troops leave and the headlines cease. I appreciated a part where Thi tries to figure out her father’s allegiances after listening to another one of his contradictory stories because I was struggling with the same thing. It was a good reminder that things aren't always so easily simplified.

My two favorite types of graphic novels are historical fiction and memoirs with historical relevance--images add so much power to these type of narratives. The illustrations are lovingly rendered. So much of the artwork impacted me, but my favorites pages were her parents' wedding, a young Bố hiding underground, and the full spread of her father gazing up at Orion’s belt. Those pages felt like whole stories in themselves. On one page there are actual photographs that were taken when her family arrived at a refugee camp in Malaysia. The contrast between the family I'd come to care for through Thi's loving illustrations and the impersonal identification shots was striking. We see so many photos of refugees and immigrants on the news, it can be easy to forget that they all have a story.

In the introduction, Bui writes about a few of the titles she came up with before settling on The Best We Could Do. Just typing the title out makes my eyes well up with tears, so I’d say it was a perfect choice! It's the story of one family's journey from Vietnam and the obstacles they overcame, but it's also so much more. It's so relevant in a time where immigration and how it should be handled is on the forefront of so many people's minds. We see firsthand why someone might make the tough decision to leave behind everything to start a new life and the incredible sacrifices they must make to provide a better life for their families. Most everyone will be able to relate to some aspect of Bui's story: family, home, identity. What makes us who we are? What we pass on to the next generation? Why is it so unsettling when our view of our parents evolves? It only takes a couple of hours to read, but it's so powerful. When I finished reading, I immediately wanted to read it again. If you're on the fence, you can preview a few of the spreads via 'Look Inside' on Amazon, the publisher's page, or visit Thi Bui's art blog.

(See full spread & more at Abramsbooks.com)

I received this book for free from Netgalley and Abrams ComicArts. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. It will be available for purchase on March 7, 2017.
Profile Image for Warda.
1,153 reviews18.4k followers
November 8, 2019
This was...difficult to read.
Just by the first chapter I knew this was something that would make me uncomfortable, forcing me to confront issues of my own that I glanced over, a nagging thought I couldn't face, because my anxiety wouldn't allow it.

At its heart, it's a story about family. The author explores what it means to be a child of immigrant parents. As our main character recently became a mother, she sets off to understand her parents and fix a relationship that involves unresolved trauma, miscommunication of the silent kind, but has bottled up and infected their being in toxic ways as both the parents and the children as both are victims of war.
So we are then educated by stories the parents reluctantly share with their daughter and we get to the bottom of why the parents are the way they are.

This has always been my fear when it comes to having children of my own, I guess. There will always be some type of pain that has not been dealt with, translating and shaping itself into an unhealthy form and that unresolved issue then gets passed on to your child and then it translates into whatever form it becomes for them. It's this vicious cycle, a loop you try and claw out of, but don't know how to.

I appreciated the light it shed on the Vietnam War which isn't something I'm familiar with, what it means to be a refugee, an immigrant, the hardship one goes through and the effect this all has and how relevant it is in our current times.
All this was told in a format that was slightly erratic, constant back and forth between timelines, introductions to families, musings of the main character, which is all paralleling to their lives, constantly having been hindered by tragic events. We're grasping their individual realities, to try and get a whole picture of this particular family. Darkness has shaped them this way and should they really be held against that? Can we blame them when the root cause of it all is a labyrinth?

It's a harrowing and resonating tale, it's introspective and it's a story that sheds light on not only what it means to be a refugee, but human. Making choices that are questionable but it's the only one they have.
Profile Image for Dave Schaafsma.
Author 6 books31.3k followers
March 10, 2017
I read this graphic memoir in one sitting and found it affecting as a story and lovely to look at. It's a story that is familiar, the desire to understand the past of one's parents, and in becoming a parent, finding yourself in a better place to do so. Her parents divorced, but to help her understand the past, and tell the tale, they came together to help her. She did lots of secondary research in addition to talking with her parents.

And since it is about Vietnamese parents who became refugees emigrating to the US, it reminded me of G. B. Tran's Vietnamerica on a similar topic, which I also liked. The Vietnamese refugee story of the seventies was dramatic, and the U.S. was very helpful in admitting thousands of displaced people. I lived and taught English in a town where several families were welcomed, and we suddenly had to learn how to help students with no English background learn to speak English and adapt to American culture. Those were folks like Bui's parents. An often moving tale that ultimately emerges to be about parenting, doing the best you can do.

This also reminded me of another story of that period I would recommend, Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, by Marcelino Truong. As a person who lived through that war (by reading about it daily and seeing it on the news), it is always a fascinating topic.
Profile Image for Thomas.
1,462 reviews8,566 followers
December 3, 2017
Such an important and empathetic graphic memoir about Thi Bui's journey to understand her Vietnamese family and their immigration to the United States from South Vietnam. The Best We Could Do begins with Bui's foray into motherhood and how it reminds her of her mother's story and sacrifices. To cultivate a deeper comprehension of her family's past, she interviews her parents, travels back to Vietnam, and spends tons of time learning about the history of the war and her family's place within it. These experiences help her create this moving, cinematic memoir that highlights her family's daring escape from a war-torn country, as well as their struggles to build new lives for themselves in the United States. She captures themes of displacement, intergenerational trauma, and how culture influences the ways we express or do not express our love for one another.

I appreciate The Best We Could Do so much for shedding light on an under-discussed lived experience. As a Vietnamese American who was born and raised in the United States, I learned about the Vietnam War in a sterilized, non-personal way in my history classes. Thus, I so love that Bui shows in beautiful imagery and meticulous detail the emotional, relational effects of the war. Holding this book felt like holding a work of art that someone spent hundreds and hundreds of hours creating. Bui's heartfelt compassion for her family's journey from Vietnam to the US shines in these pages, both through the amazing artwork and the research she did to put together his nuanced narrative.

Overall, I would recommend The Best We Could Do to anyone interested in history, the Vietnamese American experience, or graphic memoirs. Reading this book made me reflect on my own family - both of my parents came to the United States as adolescents - in challenging, meaningful ways. The educational curriculum in the US often erases the experiences of racism and discrimination we have experienced and continue to experience, so I appreciate Bui shedding light on those instances too. While I wish Bui had also touched on how she and her family have dealt with intergenerational trauma since coming to the US, perhaps that will serve as the foundation of her next highly-necessary book.
Profile Image for Sam.
142 reviews321 followers
February 7, 2017
A heartfelt, engaging, comprehensive illustrated memoir, The Best We Could Do really blew me away. I do not gravitate towards graphic novels as a format, but this book completely hooked me from the opening panels as Thi Bui embarks on her own journey of motherhood for the first time, and seeks to close the gap between herself and her parents by better understanding where she comes from and their own stories. She does incredible amounts of research and is able to distill years of history and emotion and anecdote into small illustrated panels, each one complex and powerful and detailed but also able to push the story along into the next image and idea. We embark on this journey through the Bui family history, starting with her parents' vastly different backgrounds and lives in Vietnam pre war, during the long destructive war pitting individuals and villages against each other as well as horrific losses from French and American involvement, and life as refugees in Malaysia and in the United States and how everyone truly did the best they could do to forge new lives, avoid hunger, and raise a family against difficult odds.

The renderings and text flow remarkably together: from Thi's narration and illustration, one gets the sense that they could not be separated in order for the larger Bui tale to be told for her, and so the format is necessary and revelatory. The drawings themselves are both simple and yet complicated, and have their own hurried urgency that helps establish the flow of the narrative. This is truly a memoir that meditates on what it means to belong - to people, to a place - and raises great questions about who all of us are as children of our parents, how our views of our parents as people evolve, and how roles shift once again if we perpetuate the cycle and have children of our own. Tie in its timeliness and relevance to a larger, social and political discussion of immigrants and refugees, a parallel to the horrors many from Syria, Somalia and other nations with intra and international conflict are facing today and the often strident response by those who would not wish to help or see those war torn people settled into their societies, and you have the makings of a major force in memoir today. Bui's memoir is at once intensely personal, but with huge potential for universal application and empathy. I would heartily recommend this to most readers: if you don't care for graphic novels at all, perhaps this isn't for you, but if you're like me and just don't gravitate towards that format, you may be surprised with The Best We Could Do, as it's so authentic and interesting and searing, it transcends its glorious individual parts and really might work for you on the level of a family history and a human face on the ongoing disscusion about immigration and belonging.

-received an ARC on NetGalley in exchange for an honest review thanks to Abrams.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
February 17, 2018
3.5 stars

I really liked the art and I definitely learned a lot about Vietnam's history.

However it's a memoir. And, unfortunately, like with many memoirs, I often felt the author didn't dig deep enough or was reluctant to tell the whole truth (probably to, understandably, not hurt her parents). For all author's anger against her parents, she never quite articulated why she felt it. The narrative also was often unclear about certain events, especially how for all the talk about poverty, somehow her family always had access to wealth and connections. There was some disconnect there that I think means some things were left unsaid.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,761 reviews1,218 followers
August 18, 2018
This book is San Francisco’s One City One Book for summer 2018 and I wanted to read it during this period. It’s a fast read and I was able to read it in a couple of days.

It’s a wonderful graphic biography book and interesting history book, and a fabulous book about parents & children and relationships, and trauma.

I’m always in awe of people who can take their pain and experiences and feelings and create writing/art and here there are both. For most of the book I particularly enjoyed the text, even though the pictures were necessary and also wonderful. The one set of photos included deeply touched me.

I got an excellent feel for each of her parents and a really good sense of her, a bit less so of her siblings and more distant relatives and others, but the entire account was very satisfying. I also got a feel for daily life in various times and places. It’s a terrific refugee story, and given what’s going on in the U.S. these days with immigrants I hope that at least some people in power will read it.

The United States’ involvement in the Vietnam War was one of the first issues for which I protested and was an activist but reading the viewpoints presented here I learned so much more than I could have imagined I would, from the point of the Vietnamese war would continue whether the U.S. was there or not, yes of course, and also other things were said that made me think. I loved it.

4-1/2 stars
Profile Image for April (Aprilius Maximus).
1,093 reviews6,576 followers
March 11, 2020
“Family is now something I have created - and not just something I was born into.”

representation: own voices Vietnamese & Vietnamese American rep.

[trigger warnings are listed at the bottom of this review and may contain spoilers]

✧·゚: ✧·゚: 4 s t a r s :·゚✧:·゚✧

Wow, I learnt so much reading this. And what a beautiful art style too. Definitely recommend this one if you can handle the subject matter.

trigger warnings: giving birth, needles, suicide attempt, stillbirth, loss of a child, war, gun violence, racism, shitty parenting, domestic abuse, cheating, living in poverty, separation from family members.
Profile Image for Reading_ Tamishly.
4,297 reviews2,290 followers
May 29, 2021
Finally! This is one book which is hundred percent what it's blurb described as.
I struggled to read this graphic memoir as it's intense and heavy at times. Trigger warnings for violent scenes and abuse and neglect. Vietnamese war times. I don't know what I was thinking when I picked up this one but it turned out to be one of the most memorable graphic novel reads ever. Even though the author claims that the events are true and they happened but most of the part seems like it's subjectively represented from her viewpoint as to what she felt rather than what actually happened. Even though the memoir is about war times, those parts in the book were my least favourite parts. It rather came out as something being told from another book rather than what the author could have understood about such issues when she was at such an age. That's that.
Even though the author seemed like trying her best to understand her own parents on why they were the way they were, it seemed like she was holding some grudges till the end of the book. But it's so damn satisfying to read this one. I wasn't in her place maybe that's why I cannot understand everything she wrote or illustrated. Everything seems so dark and complicated like in reality especially when you cannot understand your own family. The struggles and everything have been shown with utmost efforts. I appreciate that this memoir is still available. It's somewhat uplifting for women. I came across some strong personalities especially the women. I am so glad I found this one by accident two days ago 😇
Profile Image for My_Strange_Reading.
530 reviews85 followers
March 22, 2019
#mystrangereading The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️. Autobiographical/historical/memoir of Bui's own story and the story of her family's voyage out of devastation of the Vietnam War.

🎨 The artistry stands on its own as a beautiful, gorgeous, unique story.
🎨 The story was heart wrenching, inspiring and poignant.
🎨 My only issue came from the stream-of-conscience style of story-telling which just threw me all over the place emotionally and "physically" between the stories.

Overall, this is an incredible graphic novel. I am still new to the reading of graphic novels, but I absolutely loved this.
Profile Image for Libby.
583 reviews157 followers
August 28, 2018
‘The Best We Could Do’ by Thi Bui is my first time to read a graphic novel. It’s a powerful illustrated memoir about a young Vietnamese woman havinng a baby, and recognizing at that moment her own essential link in her family’s story. Bui’s mother flew in from California to be with her daughter while she was in labor, and as Bui expresses so well, “but now that she’s here, she can’t bear to be in the same room.” Accompanying this caption is the picture of her mother standing out in a hallway crying, her hand over her mouth. As a nursery nurse, I often found family members in hallways overcome with emotion because their loved one was in pain and there was nothing they could do to change that.

In the pages of this book, Bui will look back over the journey that’s brought her to a New York hospital to deliver a son in November of 2005. She explores the histories of both her parents and grandparents in Vietnam. Some of her drawings evoke the sorrows of what her parents endured just to survive. Over the course of the book, I sensed this was a sorrow passed down to their children as readily as the genes they shared.

Bui’s brother Tam’s birth in a refugee camp, their harrowing journey in a boat to escape Vietnam, the contrasting lives of Bui’s parents during their childhoods, and the political conflicts of Vietnam are shared. Thi Bui calls her father Bo and her mother Ma. Bo’s story in pictures are deeply emotive. When Bo is five years old, his father throws his mother out onto the street. Can you imagine the face of a five year old whose mother is no longer available? Bui can and does.

This is not a book that can be discussed adequately with words; it’s a visual experience and has to be seen to be appreciated. The colors throughout are black and white and shades of red. Faces and figures carry volumes of expression. Bui’s journey is an immigrant’s story and the universal story of the search for identity. There is hope here, too, as Bui so wonderfully depicts, in the birth of her son, and a future without the shadows of war. Highly recommended.
Profile Image for Mariah Roze.
1,020 reviews922 followers
December 2, 2017
This was a great autobiography graphic novel. The author talked about her parents leaving war-torn Vietnam and moving to the USA. This also shared the daughter's story of growing up an immigrant and very poor.

This is definitely worth a read!
Profile Image for Dianne.
559 reviews910 followers
March 18, 2018
Well done graphic novel by a woman who came to the US with her family as Vietnamese refugees after the fall of Saigon. Thi Bui reconstructs her parents' paths from their childhoods to where/who they are now, and muses on how their respective pasts have shaped her own life.

Interesting and beautifully illustrated. I especially loved everything having to do with her father. Just.....for some reason, it did not resonate with me or emotionally engage me. Good, but I would have liked to have had a more visceral connection.
Profile Image for Mara.
1,561 reviews3,770 followers
November 22, 2022
A great example of how the art in a graphic memoir supports the story - the watercolor quality of the red, pink, orange, white, & black colorscale was used to great effect to communicate emotion and atmosphere. I really enjoyed this story of parenthood in impossible circumstances and the complicated relationship immigrants have to their country of origin vs. their new home
Profile Image for Britany.
967 reviews417 followers
July 29, 2018
This was incredible. The amount of time and work that had to go into its creation alone was fascinating. The tough conversations that took place between a daughter and her parents made me want to cringe and cry.

Thi Bui came to this country under a traumatic veil.Her family is from Vietnam and during the 60's and 70's she shows us how the country went to war with itself and the French influence on their culture. What it was like to grow up in a communist country and then forced to flee to protect their family. Finally making their way to America showed the reader the strength and compassion of her family's voyage. The writing and language was gorgeous and the illustrations were incredible. I felt every ounce of time that Bui put into this project. I could feel her questions, her unease, and ultimately her success in putting this together. Brilliantly done- would highly recommend to those skating between graphic novels and regular novels. This one felt just like a novel.
Profile Image for Anna.
759 reviews513 followers
June 4, 2018
Reading Women Challenge 2018

5. A graphic novel or memoir

Not sure what I was expecting when I picked this one up to read each night before going to sleep. As someone who reads comics and graphic novels for academic research purposes, I thought that not much can surprise me, hence me naively thinking this will be a light read. Yet The Best We Could Do broke my heart in more ways than it mended it. And I am happy with that!

Bui’s visually stunning book is so much more than an immigrant story: her family saga and their journey to America is perhaps the thread that connects the novel’s other themes, sometimes so brilliantly paralleled between the generations and rather didactically contained in the each chapter’s title: “Blood and Rice,” “The Chessboard,” “Heroes and Losers,” “Labour.”

“The struggle to bring a life into this world is rewarded by that cry. It is a single-minded effort, uncluttered and clear in its objective. What follows afterward — that is, the rest of the child’s life — is another story.”

There are plenty of moments captured from Vietnam’s blood-stained history, spanning almost a century, in its attempts at liberation from France, Japan, and later the very United States they would find themselves heading to.

What stands out, to me, is Bui’s relationship with her mother and her realization - towards the end of the book - that she needs to “let her be not what I want her to be, but someone independent, self-determining, and free.”

The artwork exudes warmth, a calming effect in the book's large and small tragedies, with its colours and the overall deceptive simplicity, packing quite the emotional punch because it helps you empathize more than something detailed or more stylized could have done. What drew me to the story is Bui’s prose and her choices in phrasing the words into the panels – pure, pure brilliance! I chose not to read this one too fast because I needed to revel in each page.

all the stars
Profile Image for Iryna *Book and Sword*.
438 reviews635 followers
September 30, 2019
3.5/5 stars

Oh, to be disappointed by ones own expectations!

Me not loving this book is absolutely not this book's fault. I just imagined something very different when I picked it up. I wanted more of family's relations, struggles to fit in and adjust, culture shock and such. And in a sense all of that was in the book, but on a very large and diffused scale.

The Best We Could Do is more of a family's saga that spans over generations while telling a very detailed war story. More of a history lesson, than a slice of life. A book that comes to mind in comparison is Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood. And not only because both are graphic novels, but because of the style of telling, of weaving politics and histories into the pages, and showing life in between. I myself craved something more along the lines of The Book of Unknown Americans or even A Woman Is No Man.

I liked the beginning and the end best - when I could see and feel narrator's personal struggles on a small scale.

The Best We Could Do is a great, quick read. With expressive art and amazingly researched and lived history (it is a memoir after all). I'd recommend if that's something you're looking for. It is not, however, a slice-of-life-cultural-dilemmas-immigrant-story, and that's what I was looking for.

p.s. the cover is even more gorgeous in real life.

Profile Image for Negin.
613 reviews151 followers
September 16, 2018
I loved this graphic memoir. The illustrations are gorgeous, the story grabbed me right away, and the pain of the author and her family’s past was beautifully depicted. They were refugees who moved to the U.S. after the Vietnam War, but that’s not all that the story is about. There is far more to it than that. It’s a story of a family, rather than just the Vietnam War.

This has to be one of the most emotionally-gripping books that I have read in a while.

My favorite quote:
“Proximity and closeness are not the same.”
Profile Image for Julie.
1,953 reviews38 followers
February 19, 2022
Each time I came back to this book I was easily engaged and became fully absorbed. I scribbled notes as I read. In some ways this is a painful book to read, however it is also a compelling and hopeful one. I was truly interested to learn more about Vietnam and Vietnamese culture and also became interested in the author's exploration of her relationship with her parents and how she came to understand them from learning of their life experience. I think that becoming a parent provides a shared experience with our parents that can be a catalyst to our reaching out and beginning to understand them as independent individuals.

Something that struck me as I read was that people in their 7os in Vietnam are considered as elderly dependents and tend to live with and are cared for by their families in a more insular existence, whereas here in the U.S. people in their 70s tend to remain active in their communities and live independently, sometimes quite far away from their families. Thi Bui writes about her own parents who emigrated to the U.S. from Vietnam, "my parents are stuck in limbo between two sets of expectations .... and I feel guilty."

As Thi Bui explores her parents' past she writes with great sensitivity about how the grief of losing a child affected her whole family. She states specifically from the experience as a sibling, "certain shadows stretched far, casting a gray stillness over our childhood hinting at a darkness we did not understand but could always FEEL."

Thi Bui came to the conclusion that the key to understanding her father is "to learn the right questions to ask." This resonated with me and I think it is true of many relationships. Knowing the right question to ask opens up all kinds of conversations and doors of opportunity to further or deeper understanding. She also writes that she was "afraid of my father, craving safety and comfort. I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own." This also resonated with me as my own father was an authority figure in my life and could instill fear in me and my siblings. It is enlightening to understand the why of our parents.

At the end of the book it seems that Thi Bui has found a sense of peace and freedom in addition to understanding. She writes that she "will always feel the weight of their [her parents'] past." However, she also writes "I no longer feel the need to reclaim a HOMELAND."
Profile Image for Monica Kim | Musings of Monica .
509 reviews534 followers
May 8, 2018
Thi Bui’s “The Best We Could Do” made me cry thinking of my parents, and the endless sacrifices they made as immigrants raising a family in America, and everything that’s going on in our country today, It has to be one of the toughest decisions my parents had to make, leaving everything behind, and moving to an unknown, foreign country. All immigrants and child of immigrants know those “ugly” teenager phases we went through, we were so frustrated with our parents for not being able to speak English, always working, and cramped in one small apartments. I grew up poor in rural countryside in a communal-style house, family of five living in one bedroom, shared kitchen with an outdoor “bathroom” in Korea. Both of my parents had a really rough childhood, especially my dad who’s been working since 9. We moved to America not knowing a word of English, but somehow, we made it happen and assimilate to American life. Life was rough when we first moved to America, the constant worry about making ends meet and that sense of frustration and tense lingered for a long time. I am forever grateful for my parents, and I owe my life to them. I never take anything for granted, I learned importance of hustle from them, and to always work hard & be kind to others.
What Thi Bui has achieved, covered, and captured in this book are pretty remarkable. I’ve never read graphic novel before, so it took a chapter or two to get used to. This was a quick, yet difficult, heartbreaking read. You have to look at the pictures carefully, I think it carries more meaning than the words. In this beautifully Illustrated & emotional graphic memoir, Thi Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves in America, and history of Vietnam, war, and French colonialism. Thi Bui started digging past as a first-time mom to gain a better understanding of her family & parents, and learns about her family’s difficult past and learned to look forward & what it means to be a parent. This must have been a challenge to draw & write, but her conviction & emotions comes through with compassion and clarity. I highly recommend everyone to read this book, it’s a book worth owning! Excellent & profound content and well illustrated & written.
Profile Image for Jenna.
Author 9 books327 followers
March 5, 2017
I read this book in one sitting (breathless, emotionally turned inside-out) and you should too.

Bui's family is different from mine in many ways, but I still experienced a sense of recognition on every page, as if her family life had been stitched together from patchwork pieces of mine, or vice versa. It's Thi Bui's truth, but I think it's a lot of other people's truth, too -- I won't use the word "universal," which I mistrust, but it has a sense of scope, of historical breadth. It's an intimate family story strung out on the pitiless frame of history, the way the membranous part of a dreamcatcher is strung out on its solid outer frame, and we are all implicated -- caught.

The visual art is heartrendingly tender, watercolor-y, yet doesn't draw attention to itself, fusing with the pithy language to make reading the book feel like a cinematic experience. It's amazing to find an author so equally gifted with words and pictures. We've all heard our parents tell these kinds of stories, but it takes talent to make the scenes spring to life like she does, with one thoughtfully chosen visual detail or scrap of dialogue. I've read a fair number of recent books about Vietnam, and yet this one still manages to stand out, to feel like a vital, absolutely necessary voice.
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