Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 69

Vietnamerica

by GB Tran
Genre notes: memoir, biography, history
192 pages
ISBN: 0345508726 (Amazon)

In the book’s opening pages, Tran’s father chides the author for trying to judge things in Vietnam from a vantage of ignorance: “You can’t look at our family in a vacuum and apply your myopic contemporary Western filter to them.” In a way that Tran likely intended, the entirety of Vietnamerica can be read as an exploration of how to become liberated from such myopia through actively seeking revelation. Heartbreaking revelation, sure, but revelation like this, if it doesn’t sour us completely on the human animal, can build us into the beautiful people we might be. Certainly the Tran who wrote Vietnamerica is a more careful human being than the Tran that exists on the page.

Vietnamerica features a host of people who are simultaneously sympathetic and unsympathetic. Tran himself comes off in his younger days as apathetic and neglectful, caring little for whatever lives his parents might have had before they become the monolithic individuals he seems to see them as while he is growing up. His father is gruff and unrelenting, stoical and stereotypically demanding. His mother is argumentative and embittered by an American dream that turns out to be just another hard life. And yet his mother not only has reason to have been disenchanted and reason to be upset with her husband, but Tran shows that she is not just the caricature he concocted of her in his early twenties; after all it is through her own careful, passionate, and invested narration that much of Vietnamerica‘s story unfolds. His father, in the end, is so much more than the broad stereotype he seems to inhabit and Tran’s investigation into the man’s inner character (in part aided by his mother’s narration) reveals, like the father suggests to the author earlier, that a one-sided perspective is inadequate for discovering who people are and what moves them. Even Tran himself does grow up—the publication of this beautiful book being primary evidence to his maturation.

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