Upon becoming a first time mother, Thi Bui reflects on the lives of her Vietnamese parents. In an effort to understand her tense relationship with her parents, the author explores her family’s story and recreates it in this beautiful graphic memoire. During the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, her parents made a daring escape to Malaysia to seek refuge from a country in turmoil. How they came to be on that boat, and how they eventually came to the United States is a much longer and more complicated story that really shines a light on the enduring strength of people in the face of adversity.
Alternating between periods in each of her parents lives, Bui weaves a story of two separate people who come together to create a family that endures through hardship and works hard to bring better times. The stories of Bui’s parents, Bo and Ma, as children, as a young couple, as new parents, and as refugees, shows amazing growth of character and really humanizes Bo and Ma beyond the label of just being Bui’s parents.
Beyond the amazing story of two people carting their three children (while Ma is eight months pregnant!) across the seas on a rickety boat, dodging pirates and detection to save their family from the chaos of Vietnam at the end of the Vietnam War, this story exemplifies the hardships parents will endure for their children. This love is illustrated so beautifully in word and image throughout the book. While Bui did not grow up in a household where love was expressed verbally or openly on a daily basis, you can see that Ma and Bo did the best they could.
The Best We Could Do reminded me of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and Louis Riel by Chester Brown. All three books use a different medium to convey true stories of people facing resistance from external forces. The illustrations bring a new dimension to the telling of these stories.