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Discussion

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Hello class of 2022! This is the page where you’ll post your thoughts on The Best We Could Do. As a reminder, here are the questions you can answer:

  1. When evaluating one’s own identity, does family history play a significant role? In the novel, how does Thi’s family contribute to or affect the construction of her ‘self’? How is ‘family’ defined in this book (e.g. page 21)? To what extent do you think your sense of identity relies on your family background?
  2. Thi’s relationship with her father is frequently featured in the book’s plot. How could her curiosity about her father’s past affect their relationship in the future? Can the pain of past struggles ever justify poor decisions made in the present? Is it ever appropriate to keep things unclear or unknown instead of digging into painful experiences in search of the truth? Support your response with a clear example ‐ from the novel or from an alternative historical event.
  3. The Best We Could Do addresses refugee experience and cultural assimilation. How did the different members of Thi’s family react to American culture? Did they sacrifice parts of their past selves to belong in San Diego? How did their journey to the United States affect them?
  4. What does it mean to be “a little more American” (page 65)? How does the book present a sense of values and identities that are based on ideas of nation and nationality?
  5. How does Thi use storytelling to confront her family’s trauma? What are the advantages of using storytelling ‐ or memoir ‐ to address personal trauma? In what ways is Thi Bui’s choice of the graphic novel genre significant?
  6. Do you think there are significant obstacles to understanding the events and the personal history addressed in this book? If so, how would you identify these obstacles (e.g. lack of historical/geographical/political knowledge, cultural difference, narrative form), and if not, why do you consider these obstacles to be surmountable?
  7. If you were to select a set of panels from the book that had the most impact upon you as a reader, which panels would they be? Identify the page numbers and articulate what you found to be meaningful in the interplay of image and text (or message).

We look forward to reading your thoughts!

42 comments »

  1. Allen Donovan says:

    I do believe that family history plays an important role in your identity. The history that one has plays a significant role up to a certain point. Both of my parents were born in Romania, where they later left the country (due to the communist regime), and met each other in the United States. I take a lot of pride in that simply because I get to experience and understand a culture different from the one I live in every day. The perspective I attain from a culture, like mine, helped form my lifestyle and some of the opinions I have today. However, I also believe that even though my family’s history play a significant role in who I am, it does not mean that I can not create or add a new identity to the one I already have. In the same way, Thi’s family helped her figure out what identity she possesses. Throughout the novel, she is confronted with war and loss because her family wanted to escape the Vietnam. This brought a sense of fear into her life, which she believes is an important trait to have (pg. 305). To Thi, family is a community of people she creates and trains to be in harmony with others and to always be the best that they can be. That notion is not her own but was taught to her through the way she was raised. Her parents taught her to take care of her siblings, be respectful and to do well in school (pg. 295). However, at the end of the novel, one important trait she wants to give her child is freedom (pg 328-329). That is why I believe that even with the family background one has, there should still be a sense a freedom to do what they desire.

  2. Francis says:

    I just posted my contribution to this discussion, my response to question 1, on my blog (https://blogs.uoregon.edu/franciso/). Currently it’s my only post, but if I add more before you see this comment and are interested in reading it, you can search the Common Reading tag on my blog and you’ll find it.
    If you’ve posted yours, link it in my comments or in response to this one; I’d like to see what other folks thought of the graphic novel.

  3. hcui2 says:

    I thought The Best We Could Do was an excellent book. It is amazing how Thi Bui is able to tell her story through the form of a graphic novel. The pictures enhanced the emotions that were brought out by the words. It was a sad read of course, but at the same time after reading this book, it was almost impossible not to have sympathy for these poor civilians who just want to live a simple life, but unable to because their homes were a war zone. it brought me courage and despair while reading. I admire these hardworking parents who just want to give their children a better life than they lived in. I was able to see the amount of hardships these strong individuals had to get through. To answer discussion question 1, as much as we don’t want to believe it, I do think one’s family history and background play huge roles in one’s own identity. Now a days in this society, it is all about who one knows and what connections one has, one’s family name and social status are huge factors in determining where one’s life is going. But it doesn’t at all means one can’t change that. In the novel, Thi’s family contributed to the construction of herself because she saw the struggles her family went through as part of who she is. As the novel went on, the more she got to know the stories of her parents, the closer she felt to them. On page 21, it says “Family is now something I have created, not just something I was born into.” I felt that, because one will never know what it means to have a family unless one is a part of creating it. One is able to create a life of their own and not having to live a lifestyle one was born into. I think my own sense of identity relies on my family background to a certain degree, but it doesn’t define me. I need to use my own abilities to make a name for myself.

    Anyways, here is a little piece of my mind. It might not make much sense but at least I tried!

    • jglazer says:

      Hcui12, I agree with you in the sense that one’s family history does play a huge role in their identity. Whether it’s out of honor or spite from their family, one’s next actions in who they become and how they live their life are inevitably a result of who/what they’re coming from. May it be choosing to carry on family traditions/family reputation, or completely disagree with their own upbringing and choose to live their own life opposite of what their parents would’ve wanted, who someone chooses to become is severely impacted by who their parents wanted them to become. I think in most cases, however, one’s further actions end up being a combination of both positive and negative emotions and lessons their family has left them with. How Thi chooses to raise her son stems from what her parents taught her, through her parents’ own successes and failures with raising their children.

      • hcui2 says:

        That was really well said! I agree with all of it. I myself am from China and my parents have gone through many hardships sending me here to America. Over the past four years I have seen all their hard work and it is not cheap to study as an international student. And therefore any decisions I make I always think about what my parents would want me to do subconsciously. I want to do as much as possible for them because of all they have done for me. I have definitely learned a lot through this experience and it has definitely helped shape who I am today.

  4. Katherine says:

    Overall, I thought the author did a great job addressing immigration, war, refugee status, and parenthood through storytelling and illustrating her personal experiences. The images portray history in a creative and beautiful way, while conveying emotions, themes, and perspectives of the characters. There are some significant obstacles to understanding the events and personal history addressed in the book. With geographical knowledge, it was difficult to know where some of the cities were located and which part of Vietnam, since there was the communist North side and the non-communist South side. In the book, a map of Vietnam wasn’t provided to show the locations of the cities, which made it difficult to follow along Thi’s parents’ back stories and the places they lived in. In addition to geographical knowledge, historical knowledge is also an obstacle to understanding the events that occurred in the story, especially for readers who aren’t knowledgeable about the Vietnam War. Although the timeline at the beginning of the book included some major events, the information was not sufficient to explain the cause and effect of these historical occurrences. Moreover, some of the rebellion groups weren’t defined and that made it hard to completely grasp what was happening during the early lives of Thi’s parents. For instance, when I read chapter 4, the Viet Minh was mentioned several times and I had a hard time trying to figure out who they were and what was their purpose, because it wasn’t explained or defined in the book.

    • hcui2 says:

      Hi Katherine! I completely agree with you in the sense of overcoming the obstacles to understand the events and personal history addressed in the book. I only can recall these two vague maps on pg138&pg167, the previous kind of showed a couple cities and their locations in the country, and the other one is just a general map that shows the north and south side of Vietnam. As of historical knowledge, I only knew what Viet Minh was because of one lesson about Vietnam war when I took U.S. history haha. There were some difficulties trying to understand everything, but I put my main focus on understanding the relationships and connections between family members and friends, and really feeling the emotions the author is trying to portray.

  5. Nolan Kriska says:

    In response to question 5:
    Thi uses stories to simplify the complicated history that created her family trauma. At the beginning of the book, she is overwhelmed with the challenge of rebuilding a relationship with her parents. Ma is pictured in many early captions as cold, but by the end she is seen as a survivor. Thi’s perception of her parents, her childhood, and immense world events changed throughout the novel simply because she could see the big picture.
    Storytelling allows us to grab onto the intangible, which is essential when challenging something as vast and deep as personal trauma. Graphic novels have the same ability with an addition of incorporating heavy meaning in a simple lesson. An example is when Thi saw her father’s shadow (or unexorcised demons) as a product of survival. The shadow was big, dark and scary on paper (on page 295), but Bo wasn’t; Thi hated the shadow, not her father, and all that was said without a single word.

    • mbryante says:

      This was really well written. I liked your description of storytelling and completely agree that it is essential when dealing with such serious matters. Graphic novels and stories are good for not only grasping deep and vast situations, but also for teaching lessons. Take telling stories to kids for example. I also really liked the end of your post where you contrast the illustrations with the reality, it was phrased really well!

  6. Katie Kennedy says:

    I thought the book was not only well-written, but highly informative, regarding the war, immigration, and society. Through the narrator’s ability to highlight her personal struggles, she was also able to give the audience insight on what life was like for other refugees in similar situations. In response to question 1, I do believe that family history plays a significant role in one’s own identity. A family carries on traditions and patterns, traced back to their ancestors, cultures, or beliefs. The simplest thing can be carried on through generations, creating a similar trait or characteristic within each family member. For example, being raised with care and kindness will usually cause us to do the same for our children. However, just because someone was raised or taught a certain way, does not mean they have to follow in those same footsteps. One’s upbringing may even cause them to take a completely different route with how they choose to live their lives or raise their children. With Thi, we recognize a great deal of influences from her past and childhood. She chooses to raise her son based on how she thinks she should’ve been raised, recognizing the hardships and lessons she encountered as a child, as well as the successes and accomplishments she found within herself brought on by her family’s influence, whether it was an obstacle or an inspiration.

  7. Samantha Fariss says:

    In response to question 5:
    I have grown up in a predominantly white, wealthy neighborhood and my family has lived in the United States for multiple generations, and because of these two things, it was harder for me to relate to the events that Thi and her family experienced throughout the book. It wasn’t that I necessarily lack the knowledge of the historical events that were frequently discussed in the book but I have simply had such a different upbringing than any of the characters in the book that it was challenging for me to connect to the storyline. For some of the Vietnamese cities or towns, I had to do some research to better understand where they were or what they were like at that point in history but that specific obstacle was easier to surmount because I simply had to look up whatever I didn’t know. It was harder for me to get past my lack of connection with the characters because I couldn’t just look up how it would feel to be a part of an immigrant family or a part of a family that had lived through a war. I would identify this obstacle as a cultural difference because it has to do with the community I have grown up in and the traditions my family has that are different than those of Thi’s family.

    • Morgan Darby says:

      I agree with you in that reading this book and coming from the background I did that it was hard to connect to in some ways. It can be hard to understand the emotions that she must have been feeling at the time or why her parents acted as they did in certain cases. Because of this, I found the representation of her story as a graphic novel to be much more compelling than simply telling the story through writing. The images used to express the scenes, I felt, gave the reality of her family’s situation much more gravity. They allowed the author to express ideas and emotions which probably would have been much more difficult for her to simply describe. Thi Bui enabled us to visually see what was happening in order to better understand and relate to the situation.
      One aspect which I found interesting was the use of color throughout the graphic novel. The pinkish to deep red that was used to contrast the black and white helped to establish different portions of every scene. I thought that the choice to use red was particularly intriguing as it can be such a dominant color but depending on the shade (such as a light salmon color) it can blend into the background as well. The color hence became another tool of expression that allowed readers to better connect to the situations.

  8. rlaws says:

    Response to question 5:
    In the graphic novel, The Best We Could Do, written and illustrated by Thi Bui, the use of storytelling to examine the changes in the author’s family dynamics creates an interesting and accurate recounting of her immigration story. Thi uses the art of storytelling to show the growth of her family as they become stronger and more resilient in their journeys. This is why it was so important for Thi to have multiple chapters of her parent’s backstories. These past experiences help demonstrate the immense changes of what the family used to be, compared with who they have become. The storytelling demonstrates how personal trauma doesn’t need to break someone; instead, showing that it creates someone new. The best example of this is shown with Thi’s mother. Her mother was once a woman who used to think a lot about herself: she put herself first and anyone else in her life after her. This changes when she is in the airport on her way to her new home. Instead of being selfish and moving along, she becomes a crucial piece in other immigrant’s lives by helping them navigate the airport. The advantages to having Thi use a storytelling form is it allows the story to continue after the destruction. Many terrible things have happened to Thi’s family, but by her continuing the rest of the story, we see what her family becomes. Storytelling allows for the full story to be told, not just the dramatic pieces. This way of writing was further pushed by Thi’s decision to create a graphic novel. The graphic novel piece allows the reader to see the expressions and emotions on the character’s faces. For many, this story can be very difficult to relate to. By converting this story to something that can be visualized, it allows for the readers to be able to step into the story of the family- and better grasp what it was like to go through these different challenges.

  9. Jane Glazer says:

    In response to question 2:

    Although Thi’s relationship with her father is complex, I do think he owes it to his daughter to explain his past. Lack of understanding can be the root of so many issues, and while it may be difficult to share certain events and unpleasant times, bringing those struggles to the surface will improve any misunderstandings and consequently improve any relationship. The painful experiences that hold the truth of one’s character are the only way for a genuine relationship. Thi says it herself- “proximity and closeness are not the same” (31). Her dad may have raised her, but she doesn’t feel like she knows truly who he is… there is a difference between just a father figure and an actual father. Thi wants to see her dad as more than just someone of authority in her childhood. She hopes by attempting to learn about her father’s past, her relationship with him will improve- “I would see my parents as real people… and learn to love them better” (37).
    While I do think in many situations it is easier to keep painful experiences unclear and unknown, it most times inevitably results in confusion and lack of empathy. Thi as a child was confused by her father’s actions- “Sometimes he played with us, and it was good. But the problem was we never knew when his anger would strike…” (72). In this situation especially, it was not okay for Bo to keep his past unclear. His own mental trauma from his childhood had a negative and confusing affect on his children. Bo wasn’t totally sure how to be a father, and him sharing his past- the past that has created who he truly is now- would’ve helped his family understand him better.

    • Nathaniel Olds says:

      Although I agree that Thi’s father should have made further connections with his children, no one has an obligation to share painful experiences if he does not want to. Sometimes people live through experiences that are better left behind. However, that is not a free pass to remain distant and removed from others. If one decides to leave their past behind, they must make connections in other ways. It does not count as “leaving the past behind” if one, in fact, remains trapped in it and keeps themselves distant for the rest of their life.

  10. mbryante says:

    In responce to question 6:

    In the graphic novel, The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui, the author and illustrator, tackles several different political, cultural, historical, and geographical problems in both Vietnam and The United States. Bui depicts scenes from family displacement in the war-torn Vietnam to her parents backgrounds and upbringings. I believe that many of these struggles are difficult to fully understand and sympathize with considering that the families struggles are so dependent on the cultural and political environment of South Vietnam in the 1970s. However with that said, Bui does an amazing job at letting the audience feel the emotions associated with her families struggles. The emotions she describes experiencing range from fear and anger to excitement and guilt, emotions that any human has felt in varying situations. This makes the story easier to understand, as while not everyone has fled from South Vietnam during the war, anyone has felt these common, human emotions and can apply that to trying to understand Bui’s journey. Additionally, the central theme of the book is the common feeling of reflection amongst new mothers. This too can make it easier for people to connect to Bui’s story as many others have experienced the same reflective feeling.

  11. dsteven6 says:

    In response to question 1,
    I believe that knowing one’s family history is crucial in their development as an individual. On page 30, Thi expresses feeling held back from maturing in the eyes of her parents because of the emotional void between them which was caused by many events that she had not learned about. Once she recognized that the cause of their problems was the fact that she did not understand the life that her parents had lived, she made it her mission to close the void by documenting their difficult past. Throughout the novel, we can feel the distance between Thi and her parents lessen as Thi understands not only that her parents’ lives had been complicated and scarring, but also that it was hard to tell her their stories directly because life had become even more difficult after they had children. Understanding her family’s history also helped Thi understand her place in the world. Although I have never experienced this personally, I have witnessed a similar situation that my mother dealt with. My mother grew up without knowing her father despite her tireless efforts to find him because her mother lied about him. She found it difficult to relate to her mother because of the lies and the fact that she had a totally different personality. Then, by some miracle, she was able to find her father at the age of 36 and close a void in her life. For the first time she was able to meet family members that had very similar personalities and discover a family history without the lies she had always been told. She experienced something very similar to Thi as their family backgrounds helped them develop a strong sense of identity. My mother has kept the idea of the void between her and her mother in mind ever since she created her own family (me) at the age of 21. Over the past 18 years, I believe that she has been completely transparent with me about life and that has contributed to my strong sense of self and the strong connection that her and I have always shared.
    Although the specific details of this story could not be any further from the life that I have lived, I felt that I truly related to Thi’s emotions because of the experience of discovering my family’s history. I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to discussing it more in the future!

  12. Sarah says:

    A major idea I took away from The Best We Could Do is that family is both something that creates us and that we create. Looking to the past often contributes to our personal identities in part because we’ll come to understand ourselves better when we see how the past has affected us, especially in the early years of our lives. For example, Thi often felt afraid during the childhood days she spent at home with Bo, even when she wasn’t in any immediate danger. She later reflects that the terror she felt was not really her own, but Bo’s–the shadow of the traumas he had endured over his lifetime. Similarly, Thi was too young to remember the boat trip her family took as they fled Vietnam, but she nonetheless has a “refugee reflex”. Her family’s past has contributed to the individual she is today. Certain emotions or instincts may be passed down through generations and in this sense, family creates us.

    But as we grow up, we separate ourselves from our parents and their past and become more distinct individuals. For Thi, learning about her family history actually assists this process because the more she knows about her parents, the more she sees them as individuals separate from her. Towards the end of the book she writes, “To let (Ma) be not what I want her to be, but someone independent, self-determining, and free, means letting go of that picture of her in my head.” When Thi has her own child, she sees him as “a new life, bound with mine quite by coincidence” rather than a extensions of her or a reflection of the past. This speaks to her understanding that each of us owns our own life–it doesn’t belong to our history or our parents. Overall, Thi’s story seems to teach that it’s important to learn about one’s family history, but that this process won’t root you in the past. If anything, it will help you understand yourself and others as unique, self-determining individuals as you move into the future.

    • Allen Donovan says:

      Very well said. Aligning with what you stated, the fear that Thi had toward Bo was not as dominant in her future as it was in her past. Seeing the progress in her respect toward Bo, allowed Thi to understand why he is the way he is. As she grew in maturity, she became less afraid of him and left his dominant presence in the past. This process led Thi into becoming someone who is independent and free.

  13. Jenna Stein says:

    In response to question 4, I think that to be “a little more American” means that the longer you are in a certain place which may be new to you (like America) the more you began to assimilate to and embrace the culture that is all around you. This type of assimilation is shown throughout the book when Thi’s family is trying to adjust to life in a country that isn’t as constantly filled with terror and war. It’s certainly a change of scenery from Vietnam, but Thi’s family still feels uncomfortable in America because not everyone is friendly towards them in the aftermath of the Vietnam war (like on page 67). This being said, it is shown in the book that Thi’s family, especially her sisters, are quickly picking up ways of life that are unique to Americans, such as saying the pledge of allegiance every day in school. This shows that while the Bui family may not feel like they fully belong in their new country just yet, they are trying to fit in and develop the American culture and way of life so they don’t feel like outsiders. Furthermore, this is telling of how one can use the culture around them to their advantage in order to feel like they fit into society, which eventually leads to a strong sense of pride in one’s nationality like Thi longs to find in America. The places where one lives throughout their life have a strong influence on their ideas and values, showing that one’s sense of nationality can change over time and with exposure to new cultures.

  14. mwalter2 says:

    In response to the first question, I would say that family history absolutely has a significant impact on the forming of one’s identity. Of course, this might be a skewed perspective considering that I have always lived with my family and therefore have limited life experience away from my parents’ expectations and who they think I am/should be. Even so, this still seems to hold true from the overall message of the book. It was because Thi learned about her family’s history that she was able to come to grips with her relationship to Vietnam, saying that she “no longer feels the need to reclaim a homeland,” and that “Vietnam was not [her] country at all. [She] was only a small part of it” (326). That feels like a huge moment in the narrative because Thi spends so much time working to connect with her family’s history in Vietnam (e.g. visiting their old home) and in the end, she accepts that her parents’ country is not her own. It is through learning of her family’s history that Thi can come to her own conclusions about her identity and her relationship with her family. I doubt that anyone’s entire sense of self originates from their family background, but I am sure that it does a large part in shaping it. In this case, getting to know her family history allowed Thi to come to peace with her role in the relationships in the family she was born with and helped her navigate the relationships in the family that she created.

    Anyways, I really enjoyed the book and it really struck a few chords with me. I’m looking forward to discussing it more in the future!

  15. Raimy Khalife-Hamdan says:

    My response to question 1:

    Of course, family history plays some sort of role in one’s own identity. Even traumatizing roots, as depicted in The Best We Could Do, need to be acknowledged and understood in order to fully embrace oneself and one’s complete identity. But I definitely do not believe that one’s family’s history dominates, or at least needs to dominate, someone’s identity. We are deeply rooted to our ancestors, and I believe past generations’ efforts and emotion live on within our blood… but that doesn’t mean that we are nailed to the past. Once we fully understand our roots, they can push forward, our family’s identity becoming a step stool to building our own present identity. Family, as Thi shows in her graphic novel, is an ever-flowing wave. Efforts of the past are ingrained into us– but only if we so chose them to be. I don’t think we are instantly connected to our past, but once we fully understand our family’s story, we are empowered in an even more intense way.
    Thi dedicates a lot of effort to understanding her parents’ lives- seemingly to better understand herself and her present. Despite a youth full of movement and (potential) trauma, Thi feels an emptiness in her knowledge of her past. She says, “Lacking memories of my own I do research” (182) because this is the only way she believes she can fill the gaps in herself. At the beginning of her memoir, Thi says that she wants to “bridge the gap between the past and the present” (36). Thi wants to find Truth. Truth in herself, which is sometimes the hardest truth to find because it is so tangled. Identity, like family, is a flowing concept. My identity today will definitely evolve to be something different (and who knows how different!) in the next ten years. And as my identity evolves, so will my family’s. In the end, as long as we acknowledge all parts to ourselves, I believe that we can best connect to the pieces of our identity we are proudest of and that make us feel strongest.

  16. Siena Joy says:

    In response to question 2:

    Thi’s curiosity about her father’s past is most likely what lead to her ability to still have a relationship with her father later in life, and to her essentially forgiving him. Her interest in his past shows that deep down she always felt like there was something more to her father that caused him to act in the ways he did. This means that no matter what he did, she never held a grudge against him for his actions, becasue she felt like there was more to the story. This is what ultimately gave her the ability to have a relationship with her father in the future. While the pain of past struggles should never be taken advantage of as an excuse for poor behavior, it shouldn’t be swept under the rug either. Thi’s father grew up surrounded by hatred and was abandoned on multiple occations even by his own father. This left him with mental scars that prevented him from being a warm and doting father, and effected most of the desions he made as an adult. To a degree, this does justify his mistakes since he never had a good example of how to raise a child set for him (as most parents learn how to raise children from their own parents). However, past struggles are not an excuse to not even try to become a better person or parent. So essentially, a painful past does explain and justify poor decisions but does not excuse a lack of trying to better oneself. It is evident from Thi and her family’s escape from Vietnam that her father was trying to do better than his father. He faced many hardships after the surrender of South Vietnam, such as being let go from his job, being held under constant suspition, and finding a way to smuggle his family out of the country while his wife was pregnant. He even helped take charge when their boat was spotted by patrols (237-243). Instead of taking the easy way out and leaving his family behind, he did whatever he could to keep them all safe. The fact that Thi was so interested in her father’s past and was able to have a relationship with him in the future signifies that she believed he was trying to be better, even if he still made poor decisions, such as driving drunk (81) or becoming violent with his children (72). This was also made possible by Thi digging into her father’s past, which helped her understand why he is the way he is, and lead to her forgiving him. This is an example of how bringing to light a painful past can help heal a family by helping them understand one another, which would not have been possible if Bo’s past had been kept a secret from Thi.

  17. Nathaniel Olds says:

    In response to questions 1 and 7:

    Thi’s family history as a complicated impact on her. The fact that the novel is more about her parents’ lives than her own life represents her evaluation of her family’s life and how it affects her. She weighs the horrors of her parents youths and the various instances of family not supporting itself (parents disapproving of marriages, infidelity) with the love and connections that their journey has provided. The conclusion she comes to is not a simple one. In the end, she determines that she is not bound by the events of her past or by the intricacies of her family. She speaks of family being something she creates instead of something she is born into (21). This also resurfaces at the end, when she speaks of her own son, bound to her “by coincidence”, and hoping that he will be free (329). However, she acknowledges that there still remains a significant connection within families. She clearly loves her family, and notes that she “will always feel the weight of [her parents’] past” (325). She understands the benefits that her family has has granted her. Perhaps where this is most evident (also one of the most impactful sections of the novel for me) is the section where her family’s apartment building catches fire (302-306) and she springs into action, escaping the danger immediately. Her “Refugee Reflex” is a product of her family’s suffering, and is a benefit that, in some ways, makes the previous suffering worth it. In the end, family brings many benefits, to Thi as well as rest of us. But none of us are tied to the negative history of our families if we do not want to be. We are ourselves, and while we are a product of the people around us, all of us are unique in our own ways.

  18. Quinn Kelley says:

    In reference to question #4:
    According to the author, adapting to American culture during her childhood was essential to avoid being discriminated against. In fact, after her father is spat on by a young boy for simply being Vietnamese, she states; “…there were reasons to not want to be anything other” than American (page 67). Therefore, for the author, becoming “a little more American” (page 65) involves trying to appear as American as possible. She accomplishes this by observing other people: “I learned about America mostly though books and TV and what my sisters learned in school” (page 67). Therefore, the author’s initial introduction to being American does not include embracing her own immigration story and her Vietnamese culture. Rather, as a child she becomes “a little more American” to avoid persecution. “The Best We Could Do” presents the ideas of Vietnam and America in conflict with each other, mirroring the internal conflict of the author between her Vietnamese and American identities. For example, the differing ideas of old age in American and Vietnamese cultures. The author’s parents are not considered old in American culture, yet in Vietnamese culture, they are considered elderly and should be taken care of by their children. In result, the author feels conflict between her two identities: “My parents are stuck in limbo between two sets of expectations…and I feel guilty” (page 33). In conclusion, during her childhood the author attempts to fit in with the typical American culture to avoid persecution while also trying to reconcile differing American and Vietnamese values later in life. However, the author expresses that she comes to terms with her identity at the end of the novel; “…I no longer feel the need to reclaim a homeland…” (page 326).

  19. mcapage says:

    In response to question 7, I found the panels on page 21, and on pages 190-196 to have the biggest impact on me. These two passages depict Bui and her mother as they begin their own families. The interplay of the words and images the author used to tell that story created two different depictions of family. It made me think about family as a choice as well as an obligation.

    On page 21, Bui illustrates her new relationship with the term and meaning of family. As she lays in her hospital bed next to her new son, “a terrifying thought creeps into [her] head”. She states that “family is now something I have created — and not just something I was born into”. The images to accompany these panels of text show Bui staring at her son from across the room. The look on her face in the final panel is an almost hard expression, as if Bui was deep in thought. But the words she uses made me think that Bui views family primarily as a choice, something that she could have chosen not to do. And while the pages and panels after the birth of her son aren’t filled with exclamations of love, it struck me that this statement shows Bui’s growing love and acceptance of her son, because she knows it was her choice.

    In contrast, the view of family as an obligation is present in Bui’s mother, known in the novel as Má. On pages 190 to 196, Bui recounts the story of Má’s family. By page 194, Má has already admitted that she wanted to study abroad and never get married, although she also admits to admiring and loving Bô, her future husband. Later, Má describes Bô getting sick and close to death. She admits that she thought she could “make his last years happy”, and then live the rest of her life as a widow. That statement, actually presented as a question by Bui, is met in response with a shrug from Má. That image struck me as incredibly personal and as an effective way of telling the story of Má. For her, in Vietnam, family was an obligation and an expectation. It was something Má hoped to get out of, but ultimately got stuck with, and it didn’t make her happier than she had ever been. Taken together, the pages in the graphic novel that illustrated family as complex and varied made the most impact on me as a reader.

  20. Temerity Bauer says:

    Response to question 7:
    Within the graphic novel The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui there were several panels that had a impact on me. The panels that had the largest impact on me were from page 266-267 when the family is at the camp and are getting their pictures taken to travel to America. Throughout the entire book, the author uses drawings to develop her story and the reader understands that it is completely real. She made a drastic change on page 267, where she pictured her and her family being photographed and wrote “-five among hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into neighboring countries, seeking asylum”(267). She put faces to the drawings of her family members in the novel, making the novel more intimate. The photographs also displayed how young each of the children were, which had a major impact on me. Within the illustrations, the children seemed older due to how brave they were and how much they had gone through. For example, when they were on the boat they all were very scared and thought the patrol boats were coming. Bui displays how courageous they were when facing one of the many obstacles they encountered. The photographs displayed the young girls who had to sacrifice everything, went hungry, and had been through so much, making the novel extremely personal. The reader was able to attach a face to the character that was developed, creating the notion that they knew the family personally. Bui creates an even larger message when she wrote “-five among hundreds of thousands of refugees flooding into neighboring countries, seeking asylum”(267). She explains that her novel is just one single family’s story, and that there were countless other people who had to go through very similar experiences to seek refuge in other countries. This work develop the idea that there are thousands of people who had to leave everything behind just to have the life that many people take for granted.

  21. bmille18 says:

    Family history has played a miniscule role in the development of my identity, whereas Thi’s family history has shaped the way that she is almost entirely. As for me, I know basically nothing about my family’s history, but that doesn’t mean that it hasn’t affected me. For example, my father grew up on a farm in Washington and as a result he has a unique perspective of initiative and discipline, which is a perspective I would not likely have had had I been born into another family. The role that family history has played in my life is heavily contrasted with the massive importance that Thi and her family’s struggles played into the formation of her identity. For example, Thi wonders if “being their child simply means that [she] will always feel the weight of their past” and even goes as far to describe herself as “a product of war” (pg 325). This reveals the function of the parents of a family, as the various lessons and experiences imparted on their children will shape their character and way of life. Thi furthers this notion of family, arguing that “the responsibility is immense” when it comes to raising a child because is it now her role as a parent to care for and teach her child. Family, as Thi sees it, is thus a collective of children and parents, parents whose roles are to teach and foster growth in their children.

  22. Sarah Romack says:

    Like many memoirs, The Best We Could Do presents a unique and individual story. It deals with a subject matter specific to just one person, yet significant to a larger population. Because of this, reading The Best We Could Do is an exclusive experience. Everyone finds meaning in different parts of the story than others.
    While reading this book, my biggest struggle was fully understanding the political and cultural history of Vietnam. It was never something I had learned much about, especially from the perspective shown in this memoir. Although Thi Bui did take time to describe some of the major political shifts and their impact on the Vietnamese people, I still spent time researching more specific details of that period to fully understand what was going on. However, I can’t say it was something that kept me from understanding the deeper and more universal messages in the book. The personal stories of Bui’s parents, as well as the revealing illustrations throughout the book provided a clear sense of the personal trauma faced by her family, as well as the many others who had similar stories. Their emotional reaction to the obstacles they faced was easier to understand and have a sense of definition in. I also found a lot of meaning in her search for the connection between family and personal identity. Even as a third-generation Italian immigrant, I find myself in a similar position as Bui on that affiliation.
    Ultimately, the illustrations and personal stories helped me dive into the deeper meanings of this book and overcome my initial troubles of understanding the historic timeline of Vietnam.

  23. nsavage says:

    Hey, y’all! Looking at prompt six, I find that there are not significant obstacles inhibiting the reader from following Thi’s family path and the much more significant obstacles that were thrown in their way. While it has been quite a few years since AP World History for me and I am by no definition well-versed in the timeline of the Western occupation of Vietnam (beyond the fundamentals such as names and outcomes of the horrific combat), I don’t believe that a large understanding of modern Vietnam history was essential for me to understand the personal memoir of Thi and her families experiences, which are expressed extremely well and intimately by Thi and her graphic-novel style. The stories that haunt her parents and indirectly her are, by all definitions, personal. They describe the impacts on the Bui family (maiden names included) and the people around them, and the context of political turmoil and division are not needed in detail for this experience to be understood any more than any other personal memoir.

    On page 183, Bố gives Thi a documentary on the Vietnam War that shows footage of the neighborhood where Thi’s first house was. She compares the video to a chessboard, noting that none of the Vietnamese people get a checker piece to represent them during the discussion of the war. From what I can guess, a majority of American History on the Vietnam War depicts a similar limitation on perspective. Most of the teachings on it have been the names of leaders, cooperatives, and conflicts, as opposed to names of citizens and their experiences during these events. This is why I don’t believe that it is really necessary for a deep understanding of these “checker pieces” and their positions to follow the personal stories and feelings of Thi and her family.

  24. McKale Walker says:

    The page in The Best We Could Do that significantly stood out to me was 267, which displays the only actual photographs featured in this graphic novel full of pen-and-ink drawings. This step away from the novel’s usual method of visual storytelling is enough in itself to make the page noteworthy, however, what draws me to the page is its raw emotion and intimacy. As readers we finally get to witness how Thi Bui’s family looks outside of cartoon form; we are literally face to face with the “boat people.” With just 4 small photos, Bui gives her description of the Vietnamese refugee experience an even more personal touch. I appreciate that she only includes these photographs, this intimate moment, towards the end of the novel, at a time where we have already come to know Bô, Má, Lan, Bich, and Thi. By now we have formed a kind of connection and understanding with these characters and by seeing their faces they evolve from just “characters” to actual human beings who’ve experienced these hardships. This thought brings me to Question 5 on whether Bui’s choice of the graphic novel genre is significant, more specifically if it was the right choice. For this question I am torn. Part of me finds value in the beauty and universal feel of the memoir’s illustrations. While reading this book, although I experienced many obstacles to understanding the historic and geographic knowledge behind the accounts, I still found myself connecting to the images of family, fear, confusion, and hope. These are universal human experiences and the drawings do an excellent job of bringing them to life. Through these illustrations we get to see and truly connect with what Bui’s family is undergoing. On the flip side, it is easy to get lost in the artwork; easy to forget that these are real people and that this is a true story. Perhaps, my lack of reading novels with much illustration led me to associate parts of this book with the storybooks I read as a kid. It made the story at times feel more fictional (and why moments like page 267 reminded me of how real this novel is).

  25. Rachel Lisle says:

    In response to prompt 6. The ability to understand the events and themes addressed in Thi Bui’s book is hindered by cultural and historical barriers. The struggles and hardships Bui’s family faces in Vietnam are not comparable to anything I have faced in my life in America. Therefore, I cannot personally relate to the personal history addressed and in that, forms an obstacle in being able to truly understand the book. However, these obstacles are surmountable because on an emotional level that surpasses culture and history, I can sympathize with and understand the meaning and themes ultimately being conveyed though events relayed in the book, such as the importance of family in forming one’s identity, and common emotions of guilt and reflection that appear in our lives.

  26. margeryp says:

    In return to Question 2:

    Bố’s life, not only as an individual but as a refugee, husband, and father, is heavily affected by his troubled past. His daughter Thi’s curiosity about this past has potential to strain their relationship even further. Because many of Bố’s flaws as a parent– his abusive behavior, his coldness towards his children, his isolation– stem from his traumatic childhood, it could be difficult to discuss them with Thi, whose life was directly affected by such flaws. This potential conversation could even lead to feelings of guilt and blame between the two, further jeopardizing the two’s relationship. In associating his sad past with his feelings as a father, Bố might interpret Thi’s genuine curiosity as a search for blame, a mistake which could stain both their lives for years to come.

    There are many parts of Bố’s past which have shaped who he is. From being abused to having an unfaithful grandfather and father to moving around, Thi’s father was traumatized in many ways in his youth. It is easy to understand how this troubled past could form the Bố Thi and her siblings know and fear. However, despite its severity, Bố’s past does not excuse his actions as a father. His trauma explains it, yes, but does not excuse it. No matter what one went through, the past does not excuse their actions in the present. Abuse is still unacceptable. Isolation is still unacceptable. Being a bad father is still unacceptable. While Bố’s history gives his children an understanding of why he’s abusive, it in no way gives them any reason for excuse or immediate forgiveness.

    People like Bố, with troubled pasts, often are hesitant to open up about their experiences. As Thi discovered through years of prying at her father’s grumpy and cold exterior, it can be difficult to get a survivor of trauma to talk about their past. While knowing the truth about one’s family is an important part of self-identity, the consequences for the person admitting the truth are often better left avoided. If knowing or asking about someone’s past forces them to re-live trauma in a painful or damaging way, such an inquiry is not worth it, especially if the person in question is a family member or loved one. The asker must wait until they know they are sure their relative is comfortable and stable enough to discuss it without fear of further psychological trauma.

    This is exemplified in Bố. Though Thi has wondered for years about why her father acted the way he did, he was not willing to talk about it until many years later, when she was more seriously interested. As mentioned in the beginning of Chapter 4 (p. 91), Thi and her father have a better relationship currently than in her childhood. She has moved away and is no longer “scared of him”. Now able to talk as adults, the two of them are finally able to talk about Bố’s past. Both of them far enough separated from the trauma, it’s easier for them to bring up Bố’s real family truth.

  27. Brett Fox says:

    In response to Question 3, I would have to say that the Buis certainly sacrificed parts of themselves to conform to American culture, from things as small as learning to eat cereal with milk (even though it may not be the most logical way to eat it), to something as major as relinquishing one’s old career path, as Ma and Bo did.

    Yet this question raised another one in my mind. Are we not all forced to abandon pieces of our past selves in order to conform to any culture, whether it is one’s native or adopted one? Is not life a constant state of flux, where we are constantly forced to adapt to changing circumstances? And are some of us given the particular (mis)fortune of having to make major shifts to conform to a completely new cultural system, as the Buis did?

    I’m excited to explore these questions and more over my next four years!

  28. Meghan Mortensen says:

    In response to question 6:
    I found some definite obstacles to understanding certain details in The Best We Could Do, but no obstacle was insurmountable or diminished my understanding of Bui’s struggles in life. Most of the trouble I had understanding the novel was centered around my lack of knowledge regarding the Vietnam War, American involvement in the Vietnam War, and Vietnamese culture in general. Though I had an obvious lack of knowledge about pieces of history that seemed integral to the plot of the book, it didn’t mean that I couldn’t gain any valuable insights or lessons from what I was reading. I was constantly getting the different sides of the war mixed up, but reading about a culture being split in half was something I recognized from studying the American civil war. It was hard for me to understand why Thi’s parents were never able to live in the same place for long because I have been living in the same house my entire life, but it did remind me of my mom’s stories of moving cross country trying to find a home she could afford. I didn’t understand how Thi’s mom could be so unparticipative as her granddaughter was being born or how her father seemed more interested in smoking rather than parenting, but that feeling of indifference is a sting that is all too familiar. Though I couldn’t understand certain details about the war or about Vietnamese culture, it is easy to see how these details relate to much larger feelings and ideas. This is what makes The Best We Could Do a worthwhile read. Being able to take one’s own life experiences, unique to Bui alone, and foster a sense of unity and understanding among readers with their own pasts is incredibly difficult, but is what makes The Best We Could Do a book that I would read again.

  29. Ella Gilbertson says:

    In response to Q1:

    Family history definitely plays a role in one’s identity, as a child’s way of life is a result of the choices their family has made in the past. However, if one has ready access to their family history, then I would put forward that it is often taken for granted. If I wanted to, I could ask any family member about their past, and they would have a ready answer, but I do not often think to. I do not feel as though that history is necessary for my development as a person. However, in Thi’s case, her parents limit her knowledge through their lack of communication, and in the process limit themselves from her. In this way, her lack of knowledge about what her identity is makes it all the more important for it to be a part of her as she grew older.
    I also think it would be interesting to compare the idea that children of immigrants have of family identity versus children who have been adopted from other countries. I have two adopted siblings. Like Thi, they have little or no access to their family history and have little or no memory of their original countries. Unlike Thi, they are growing up in a family that does not have that information, nor raises them with the traditions that their birth families might have had. They have a lot of different ways they could define themselves, but even if they chose to someday reconnect with their countries of origin, they would still find a lot lacking.

  30. Carson says:

    Answering #1:

    I do believe that family plays a role in one’s identity, but do not necessarily agree in saying one’s identity relies on it. It is important to acknowledge where you came from and who raised you, but it is also important to understand that you are your own being, never required to restrict your mind from exploring passions and careers your family may not have adopted. In the case of The Best We Could Do, there lies a past in Vietnam, a country Thi wants to move on from, not identify with. Where you came from does not always equal where you will end up. I know in my specific case, I will continue to value the same things as my parents, but also find new interests in life to define who I am as a person.

  31. Lejla says:

    In response to question 5:

    Thi Bui’s graphic novel “The Best We Could Do” is a story of perception, understanding, history and identity. Bui uses storytelling as a way to walk through her life and confront her childhood perceptions of her parents, siblings and surroundings. By including her parent’s stories and their perceptions, she grows and understands why they are the way they are and how she came to be.

    The advantage of storytelling is that is allows for everyone to connect. The author is publicizing their connection to their history and identity. In addition, we as readers are able to connect to the author’s story. We learn more about Bui’s history and identity while simultaneously searching for similarities and ways to connect ourselves with the story.

    As a first-generation American with parents who were also war refugees, I think that the graphic novel was the best choice of genre. Listening to my parent’s story, I would have images flash through my mind as they would tell their story. The graphic novel is in that way a perfect genre to pass down the events in a way that some children of immigrants/refugees experience these stories. This genre doesn’t focus on dialogue (which would be distorted with time), but rather an account of events and feelings which would be the least tainted (as compared to trying to recall dialogue) with time.

  32. sorchao says:

    I agree that to a great extent, family history plays a role in determining one’s identity. In the book, it’s clear that Thi Bui’s family background has shaped not only her relationship to her parents but also her understanding of self. She looks to them, uncovering their story over the course of the book as a way of understanding both her present relationship with them and the details of her upbringing. In many ways, family history and cultural background can become a reference point from which to understand one’s own needs, personality, and identity. Both of my parents are Irish immigrants and being a part of both Irish and American culture has greatly influenced the way I see the world, even though simple things such as food and conversation. I feel that being Irish-American is a deeply rooted part of my identity. In addition, as Thi Bui reveals in her book, trauma can influence generations beyond those who experience it. My great-grandmother and her family were heavily involved in Ireland’s fight for independence in the early 20th century, facing war, violence, brutality, and intense discrimination. Although I don’t personally share that experience with my great-grandmother, it affects my perception of history and many present day realities such as the ambiguous nature of Nationalism and the well known story of fighting for freedom from oppression. That history is a part of my identity. Thi Bui reflects this as she grapples with a traumatic childbirth, remembering her mother’s history of traumatic births. Her family history affects the way she perceives and grapples with the struggles of her own life, these struggles forming an important part of her identity.

  33. Nolan Mayfield says:

    I have a few thoughts in reply to the latter part of question one, which states, “To what extent do you think your sense of identity relies on your family background?’. To accurately answer this question one must first analyze two extremes: what life would be like if your family background defined your identity and what it would be like if it had no effect on your identity. Simply put, deciding between the two would be choosing the better of two evils. If your family background holistically defined your character you would lack any semblance of individuality and your life would not be your own. On the other hand, if family background had no affect on your identity you would deprive yourself of one of the key human experiences. Family background enhances the human worldview and to do without it is beyond unhealthy.
    Neither of these options are feasible, although both must be drawn from. One is inevitably led to conclude that a delicate balance must be found in which your family background enriches your growth and self esteem without controlling who you are.

  34. Aspen Csaszar says:

    In response to question number 7:

    When reflecting on Thi Bui’s, The Best We Could Do, I am left feeling that Bui’s illustrations often speak louder than her text. Her illustrations add to the overall emotion the novel portrays and at times I caught myself reading a page once then staring at it for minutes feeling the pictures come to life. With this being said, I was most impacted by the set of panels on page 303, when she exemplifies that her childhood would affect her always. Here, we see a traumatic moment and can understand why she reacted in such a manor. The header “What would a normal fourteen-year-old’s response have been?” helps the reader understand that Bui knows her reaction was different from what one would expect, due to her specific upbringing. She contrasts how she behaves in the moment to how a “normal” 14 year old would behave. This is meaningful to me because it shows a real life comparison of how her development and life experiences will impact her for the rest of her life in the same way that each person’s childhood and life experiences will impact them. While I am aware this may not have been the deepest textual moment, it really spoke to me that she wrote about this moment in the book. I felt it was an area that anyone could look at and think of what they would grab when smelling smoke, an electronic, pet, or teddy bear, followed by a panic moment, probably a scream or yell. Bui maturely grabs what she sees as most important to her and a safety object, her documents and a wet rag to breath through. We see that Bui had a rushed childhood- being very self-sufficient at 14, when I personally would say I was quite dependant on my parents at 14. She carried herself like an adult more so than a teenager here. Overall, I found this page speaking to me personally, showing the aftermath of Bui immigrating to the US and her family’s background.

  35. Dawn Dravis says:

    Responding to question 1:
    I think that family history plays one of the biggest roles in the development of one’s identity. For Thi especially, her family’s pain and struggle directly affects her childhood and her relationship with both of her parents, even into adulthood. How family history impacts each individual, (in a good or bad way) is totally dependent on each situation and personality. For some, a history of pain and suffering can continue through generations and make it incredibly difficult to escape bad situations, similar to how Bo’s abusive parents caused him to be more distant and borderline abusive to his own children, reflected when Thi says, “Afraid of my father, craving safety and comfort. I had no idea that the terror I felt was only the long shadow of his own” (129 Bui). However, with Thi, she sensed almost absorbed her family’s pain as a child. Although it clearly had a negative emotional impact on her as well, as an adult she morphed the pain into motivation to learn about her family and strengthen her relationship with her parents, and become a sensitive, hardened individual ready to raise her own family. In short, whether one knows nothing of their history or knows everything about it, whether their history was traumatic or prosperous, everyone’s history has played a significant role in shaping their own identity. But it is important to note that although family history inevitably aids in forming one’s identity, it does not have to define that person.

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