Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Best We Could Do

Thi Bui
Sometimes I'll Google phrases like "best diverse comic books" and come across titles I've never heard of, such as this gem by Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do.  Thi Bui was born in Vietnam and left the country with her family as a refugee during the war.  They eventually made it to the United States, where Bui met her husband and they started a family.  While raising her son, Bui reflected upon her relationships with her own parents and how little she knew about their lives before she entered the world.  This graphic memoir is her attempt to tell their story and her own, and it's a beautiful one.

As I get older, it becomes more and more clear to me that my parents are human, and that they are humans who age.  As I see my friends with their (still quite young) children, I can also see just how exhausting parenthood can be.  There are few relationships in life that can remain as inherently selfish and self-absorbed as that of a child towards its parent.  Even now, as an adult who is capable of doing adult things like cooking her own dinner and doing her own laundry, every time I go to my parents' house, I regress 100% and expect there to be food waiting for me when I arrive, and food ready for me to take back with me when I leave.  I call my dad and complain of medical symptoms so that he will call in prescriptions for me.  I call my mom and ask if she'll come over to oversee work on my house so that I don't have to take a day off of work.

Bui reflects upon this as she takes care of her son and compares her childhood to those of her parents' and her son's.  Her parents came of age in vastly different circumstances; they met in college, got married, and then their world imploded.  They raised children in the midst of war, and then left the country on a boat (while Bui's mother was eight months pregnant) to get to Malaysia.  They arrived in America, still chased by their personal demons, and raised a family the best way they knew how.  Bui struggled with her relationship with her parents, particularly her father, and only began to understand why when she learned more about their childhoods.  The empathy that comes through in the way she describes her family history is so moving, and the title of the book works so well.  Her parents weren't perfect, and they made mistakes.  But they did the best they could do, and their children grew up with better lives, and their grandchildren grow up with even better ones.

The Best We Could Do is a beautiful story, particularly at this time when so much of the world is turning away refugees.  Accepting refugees not only changes the lives of the refugees, but of generations to come.  The book is also a truly heartfelt memoir about family and the deep love that you can have for people you don't always understand and who are far from perfect.


  1. This sounds so good; I'll have to see where I can find a copy. I totally agree about regressing. I share a house with my parents and my daughter and still love it when my mom cooks dinner :-)

  2. Aarti, this book sounds perfect for me. I've been thinking about my parents and their childhood a lot lately - especially as I see them getting older. And I'm like you - totally regressing whenever I'm around them. Its like I forget that they were these separate people from me when they were younger. I definitely have to get my hands on this book! I'm so glad you posted about it.

  3. This sounds wonderful. This and Vietnamerica both sound really super good, and of course my library hasn't got either of them yet. I'm waiting for their Library Request system to come back online so I can ask them to order both for me. :D :D :D

  4. Thanks so much for writing about this. It sounds so very good. I enjoyed reading about you and your parents. It made me laugh, as a parent of adult children. I was just saying to Tom, no one but your own child would come in your house and drink the last of the orange juice! I love it, as I'm sure your parents love doing all those things for you. It makes us feel still loved and needed.

  5. Oh, I need to read this. When I was in my mid-20s, my parents divorced, and I hated realizing they were humans with feelings, fears, anxieties, etc. I just wanted them to be fine! and of course, I see it now with my son -- I don't want to be anything but strong and supportive for him -- but of course, that's not realistic. :/ Thanks for lifting up a book I hadn't heard of!


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