The Best We Could Do
By Thi Bui
When we are very young, we think of our parents as all-knowing and all-powerful beings. At some point, we realize that this is not so. We may even believe that they did not exist before our birth and be surprised to learn that they have endured trials beyond our imaginings in their early years. This realization changes the way we look at them; it makes them more human.
For Bui, these revelations were sparked by the birth of her first child. She was suddenly thrown into the world of adulthood and this provoked a need to understand her own parents better and to know more about their lives. What she learned is the subject of this graphic novel, which she also illustrated. She tells their story from their origins in Vietnam, through a harrowing escape to the U.S., and finally to California.
She learns to pity them, and not to judge them. She learns that her parents experienced indescribable horrors, not only to survive, but also to offer her a better life. Bui’s tale is reminiscent of Ru by Kim Thúy, which also recounts a family’s flight toward freedom and safety.
Both of these stories resonate with me because my own mother was an immigrant, fleeing war torn Europe after WWII to find a better life. In reading Bui’s story, I have renewed appreciation for this place of peace and plenty, given to me as a gift by a courageous mother.