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

the-best-we-could-do

This book won’t be released until the 7th of March 2017 but I had the pleasure of reading an advanced copy. The Best We Could Do was a real insight into life in Vietnam during the war, it is a memoir about finding life in the future whilst tracing the past that made you who you are. Thi Bui tells the story of her family’s trip to the United States in search of a better life, alongside her own personal search for identity.

The book is structured into 10 chapters jumping from the present to the past in a timeline of events. Thi Bui tries to piece together her parents’ lives, right through to her own and finally that of her son’s.

The plot opens with Thi Bui giving birth to her son and becoming a mother, which sparks thoughts of her own mother and how she tackled parenthood during a difficult time in Vietnam. Thi Bui chronicles her parent’s lives growing up in two very different settings, finding education, fighting colonialism and escaping danger. Sometimes it’s hard to see into stories like these and see the people amongst the violence, death, danger and cruelty of war but Thi Bui filled this novel with emotion. The images evoked and complimented the story and I just could not stop reading. Some chapters were overpowering especially in Vietnam and I felt the writing and illustrations held immense power and reality. It’s easy to learn about events that happened throughout history but rarely does one come across a piece of writing that immerses you into that period, the events and the fear of those living it.

This is a very easy book to read, each page runs into the next and as an added bonus it is filled with beautiful illustrations to help narrate the plot. Every image is drawn with grey, red, cream and an overall hazy colouring. However it adds to the nostalgic feel of the story and compliments the undertones. For any scenes that include death the red intensifies, the illustrations darken with the mood and the present seems to have a hint of yellow or cream. I think the colour scheme of the illustrations gives the reader an indication of the mood or feel of the particular chapter; a beautiful and high quality aspect of the book.

I think this book comes at an important time because it highlights the need to letting people travel to the US and other countries. This book puts into reality the horrors that Thi Bui’s parents were escaping and the life they made in America. Both worked hard to make a living and pushed the hardworking and dedicated skills onto their children. Not only that but this book highlights how hard life was for them and the danger they were in, why would you let another human being endure that when you have the means to help? This book shows how around them their country was changing, their friends were being murdered and how hard it was to make a life there. Their courage and determination for a better life is extraordinary.

In her parents story Thi Bui tries to find her identity, she is the second youngest in her family and doesn’t remember much of her life in Vietnam or her journey to America. Despite growing up in a westernised society she still identifies with Vietnam and harbours the effects of displacement. She learns what its like to become a mother and a parent whilst still being a child. She starts to understand the sacrifices her parent’s made and passes on her knowledge in The Best We Could Do.

I gave this book a 5 out of 5 on Goodreads and it more than deserves it. I can’t recommend this enough, this is the first book I have read by Thi Bui and it has pushed me to look into her other pieces of work. This book has left me with a real hangover and I keep thinking about it, I have no doubt her talent will extend into the pages of her other novels.

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