Read This Book

Read This Book: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Welcome to Read This Book, a weekly newsletter where I recommend one book that I think you absolutely must read. The books will vary across genre and age category to include new releases, backlist titles, and classics. If you’re ready to explode your TBR, buckle up!

This week’s pick is The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui.

Content warning: Mention of rape, war violence

Thi Bui has grown up with the effects of the Vietnam War looming over her life like a shadow. Born in Vietnam, she and her family fled to the U.S. in the late 1970s as South Vietnam fell. Her mother was eight months pregnant when they left, and she gave birth to Thi’s younger brother in a refugee camp. The family landed in the U.S. shortly after, staying with relatives in the Midwest before making their way to a more temperate climate and an independent life in California. But their struggles don’t end there.

“How much of me is my own, and how much is stamped into my blood and bone, predestined?”

This is the question that haunts Bui, and her memoir. She starts her account in New York City in 2005, as she is in labor with her son. It’s a moment that should connect her to her own mother, and Bui is full of hope that it will mark a new phase in their relationship. But her mother is not present in the way Bui hopes, and she is once again reminded of the vast disconnect between herself and her parents. With beautiful artwork in black, cream, and a shade that intensifies from peach to burnt orange, Bui moves back and forth through time, showing readers glimpses of her parents’ pasts: her father’s harrowing childhood in a village marred by violence, and her mother’s more privileged upbringing that is nonetheless affected by colonialism and unrest.

She reconstructs her family’s history, their small and large tragedies, and analyzes how her family influenced the person she has become. Bui wrestles with some pretty big themes and issues–trauma, the immigrant experience, the complicated legacies our families pass down, and the difficulties of excavating a history that you didn’t live or were too young to remember in order to understand your present. Most pressing of all? The fear that she will somehow permanently affect her own son. This journey is not easy, but the result is a beautiful, moving memoir about strength, resilience, and the courage to start anew. Even if you don’t think graphic novels are your jam, I highly recommend giving this book a shot because the story and the artwork are both very powerful.

Happy reading,


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