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The Best We Could Do
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message 1: by Louise, Group Founder (new)

Louise | 680 comments Mod
Hi all, this is the thread for our June read, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

The Best We Could Do
An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam from debut author Thi Bui.

This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. 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.

In what Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past.

Thi Bui
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.


The discussion this month will be led by Kristin


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
I read this last week in anticipation of our discussion and am looking forward to everyone’s comments.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "Carol wrote: "I read this last week in anticipation of our discussion and am looking forward to everyone’s comments."

I see that you rated it 4 stars, so that's a good sign. I'm reading this today..."


Kristin, errrr. I felt a tad pressured to inflate my rating. :) This is one of those books everyone’s raves about. I voted for it and learned about the Great Vietnamese Famine, for example, and am glad that I did; however, I didn’t ever connect with the characters so it was a more cerebral exercise than I wanted or anticipated. It is a quick read and I am distinctly in the minority so don’t want to discourage anyone from reading it — not least of all because there are very few women artists producing English-language graphic novels for adults, and we need to support them.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "Not a spoiler, just tangental regarding my rating system in response to Carol's comment:[spoilers removed]

I remember reading a review for The Refugees by [author:Viet Thanh Nguyen..."


I would have enjoyed it as a novel. It struck me as very, “ this happened, and then this happened, and finally this.” I would have enjoyed a fuller story, especially of Bo. She did an excellent job of detailing the impact of the various regime changes on not only her family but the people of South Vietnam, generally.

My friend and nail technician is my age. Her family brought her brothers to the U.S. first and she was left in VietNam for nine years after Saigon fell. The last four years (age 11 to 15 or so) she was the only family member left in country. I tear up just thinking about that set of facts and the explicit sexism. I look forward to hearing your thoughts when you finish...


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "I read the book on and off yesterday, finishing it last night. I didn't know much about Vietnam, other than what little they taught us in US History. That was mostly about the war, and even that is..."

Yes to the first question, although I had hoped for more substance on the relationships.

No, to the second. Zero heartbreak here, so no healing either, in part because notwithstanding the dark times and the possibilities of tragedy, the one lost child was the only heartbreak the characters experienced, IMO. Disappointments, hunger, the need to survive? Yes. You’ve reminded me that that marketing line is one of my irritants. Sell the book for what it is and what it excels at. I didn’t experience it as an emotional book but I can see how it might be impactful, particularly for readers who know little about the history of VietNam under French rule or who come to it with a Western-centric view.

Did you think it was great or memorable? Was the art important to your experience? Were there parts of the story where the illustrations were more impactful for you?


message 6: by Carol (last edited Jun 05, 2018 08:18AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin, One of the things your last post reminded me is that discussing an autobiography or memoir often divides readers into two camps - those who empathize with the author because the book reflects her lived experience, and those who seek to evaluate whether the book works as a book. I tend to be in the second camp in my evaluations. I evaluate a memoir in the same way I evaluate a fictional story - does it work? is the arc compelling? did the characterizations come across authentically? I'm not questioning whether Bui could have obtained more information from her parents or changed the facts - just concluding that, as-is, the story is less compelling for me than it is for others.

Last year, a friend and I buddy-read Ahdaf Soueif's semi-autobiographical ( I suspect the "semi" could be dropped but there would be implications for other living people so ....) work, In the Eye of the Sun. We were aligned in being entirely frustrated with the character that represented Soueif -- the unending first-world whining, immature handling of romantic relationships, etc. -- as well as the lack of a compelling story line. It was an entirely linear narrative with nothing driving it forward. Many readers rejected any criticism of the book with, 'well this is her story." Our answer between ourselves was, then maybe her story shouldn't have been published as a book, unless she was willing to make changes that strengthened it as a book.

To be clear - I'm not in any way suggesting that Bui should have changed her story. I think it's okay, though, and even instructive to critique the story as a work of art and storytelling without the truth of it being enough to demand 5 stars.

I hope this makes sense. I do think everyone should read this graphic novel. I'm just not persuaded that it's a phenomenal book that breaks hearts and heals them.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 699 comments I've been intrigued by your discussion, so I just picked up the book. It's the first time I read a graphic novel.

I'm about 60 pages in and so far, I'm not finding it particularly good or engaging. I'll probably finish reading it because it is a quick read and I don't like to give up on something after I've started it.

I'm thinking maybe I'm just not into graphic novels. Maybe the format and style of a graphic novel doesn't allow for depth in characterization. There's just not enough substance or character development for me to get my teeth into so far. But I'll keep chugging away at it to see if it gets any better.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "I've been intrigued by your discussion, so I just picked up the book. It's the first time I read a graphic novel.

I'm about 60 pages in and so far, I'm not finding it particularly good or engagin..."


Tamara, to your point about depth of characterization, the graphic novels that have worked best for me have had a small cast of central characters and also a relatively narrow time frame. Generally, the more characters and more years, the more I feel as if I’m touring a highlights reel and not connecting with the characters.

I’ll be interested to see your final thoughts on this one.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 699 comments Carol wrote: "Tamara, to your point about depth of characterization, the graphic novels that have worked best for me have had a small cast of central characters and also a relatively narrow time frame...."

Good to know. Thanks, Carol. As I said, it's the first graphic novel I've read. I'll see how it goes.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Carol wrote: "Tamara, to your point about depth of characterization, the graphic novels that have worked best for me have had a small cast of central characters and also a relatively narrow time fr..."

Oh! I didn’t pick up on that in your initial message, Tamara. If you run across a copy of The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir by Riad Sattouf, you may want to give it a shot. I very much enjoyed it and its sequel and I suspect the subject matter might resonate with you, too.


message 11: by Carol (last edited Jun 08, 2018 04:22PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "That looks good, Carol! Thanks for sharing!

If you (broad use of you) like nonfiction, I recommend. Persepolis and Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi and Rosalie Ligh..."</i>


Thanks for these, Kristin. Rosalie Lightning is one I’ve not seen before and will seek out.

I’m also a huge fan of [book:March: Book One
, March: Book Two and March: Book Three by John Lewis.



Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 699 comments Carol wrote: "If you run across a copy of The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir by Riad Sattouf, you may want to give it a shot. "

Thanks, Carol. The library has a copy so I'll give it a try.


message 13: by Laurie (last edited Jun 08, 2018 05:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Laurie | 11 comments I just finished this, and I completely agree about the distant feeling I had from the story. I don't know if it is a reflection of the distance that Thi had from her parents or something else. It almost felt like she was telling the story of people she barely knew, even the parts about herself in the present. Occasionally I saw a spark of something personal, like in the refugee camp in Cambodia. I wonder if it seemed that way to me because we saw actual pictures of the family so a better connection was made to them as real people.

This is only my fifth graphic novel and of those five, three were based on real events. I have enjoyed each of them in their own way but not as much as narrative memoirs. I think this medium doesn't translate strong emotion as well as words for me. It undoubtedly works better for some readers, but it feels too cartoonish for me to feel the horror or outrage that I should. For example, I am currently reading The Complete Maus very slowly and the usual outrage I feel about the Holocaust is much less. It definitely affects my feelings since the Jews are depicted as mice. In The Best We Could Do, the same dampened feeling was my reaction and I can't pinpoint exactly why.


Linda (lindaleehall) | 6 comments I am not really confident in how to rate graphic books. While I did enjoy it, and the art was expressive, I can't help thinking that a conventional format would have been more fulfilling for a memoir like this.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 699 comments I finished it. It just wasn't for me.

My review:
https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...


message 16: by Carol (last edited Jun 11, 2018 10:30AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
I've continued to think about this conversation and wanted to offer a short version of my experience with graphic novels, in the event it helps any other members find their way more successfully to graphic novels that satisfy them.

I read my first graphic novel in 2016 as part of a Book Riot Challenge. Because I didn't have any reader friends who read GNs and didn't know what I was doing, I went to my library, poked through the limited 6 shelves of GN that aren't YA and picked one. I wouldn't select any other books that way, so it's no surprise that my choice - albeit by Brian K. Vaughan -- was mediocre, in terms of my taste in novels. Here's my review of Pride of Baghdad. https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Really, though, it wasn't him, it was me.

In terms of finding GNs that were more likely to please me, I did have one thing going for me. I read a lot (for an American) of Japanese literature, am active in a group here focused on it, and accordingly have developed friendships with a dozen or so readers who read a great number of manga and other GNs. So my feed now reminds me that GNs are novels, subliminally, and I consider them along with all the conventional novels I'm more likely to be aware of and select. That sort of reminder is helpful if you like me would like to get out of your comfort zone from time to time, but have no interest in reading books that don't ... interest you.

The other choice I made was to accept a friend invite from author and academic, David Schaafsma. We probably had 2% of each of our shelves in common at the time. But David has read 6000 books, reads almost exclusively GNs and has posted almost 3000 reviews. His reviews are short, detailed, and spot-on, IMO. Also, his shelves are labeled in such small slices that you can look at his shelf for "feminism" and find (only) 34 books, 75% of which are GN. To me, this makes browsing his shelves manageable and not work.

I can't recommend David and his bookshelves too highly. In the last year, I found (through him) the following GN reads that I truly enjoyed -- in addition to The Arab of the Future, which I referenced above.

from Korea, a coming of age story that rocks, the Color Trilogy: The Color of Earth, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven, each by Kim Dong Hwa. (this is intended for adults.)

and

A Bride's Story, Vol. 1, a ten-book series written and drawn by Kaoru Mori. It tells a 19th century story that takes place on the Silk Road. This is a series that everyone 5 stars the illustrations, which are truly stunning, and the supporting story is fine, but very YA.

and finally, while I haven't read this one, it covers the same ground roughly as our book this month. I've heard good things about Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey by G.B. Tran.

I'm glad we read this book together, even though it wasn't a great book for me. It reminded me to keep seeking out female GN and manga authors and support their efforts when they align with my interests.


Tamara Agha-Jaffar | 699 comments Carol wrote: "I've continued to think about this conversation and wanted to offer a short version of my experience with graphic novels, in the event it helps any other members find their way more successfully to..."

Thank you, Carol. Your post is very helpful and encourages me to keep an open mind about graphic novels.

I'm picking up a copy of The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir from the library, per your suggestion. I'll read it as soon as I finish the book I'm currently reading. I'll let you know how it goes.


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Tamara wrote: "Carol wrote: "I've continued to think about this conversation and wanted to offer a short version of my experience with graphic novels, in the event it helps any other members find their way more s..."

You’re welcome, Tamara. I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts. It took me maybe 75 minutes to read, btw :)


Carol (carolfromnc) | 2333 comments Mod
Kristin wrote: "Thank you, everyone, for reading along this month and sharing your thoughts!"

Thanks for moderating, Kristin. This thoughtful discussion raised a lot of interesting points.


message 20: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Cassel | 38 comments Carol wrote: "Tamara wrote: "Carol wrote: "I've continued to think about this conversation and wanted to offer a short version of my experience with graphic novels, in the event it helps any other members find t..."
This is a great book.


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