I swore I would not fall behind in CBR Reviews. Lo and behold, I am about ten reviews behind. I blame a vacation, a wedding, and my online class grading for getting me behind in my reviewing (but hey, still reading, amirite?). I’ll stop apologizing and get right to it:
I’ve been trying to expand my graphic novel “vocabulary,” and I especially find the concept of graphic memoirs intriguing. So when I heard about G.B. Tran’s Vietnamerica, my curiosity was piqued. I’ve read Thanhha Lai’s Inside Out and Back Again, a novel-in-verse memoir about a child who moves to the United States from a war-torn Vietnam, so I was intrigued by the graphic novel genre approach. I was absolutely stunned by the incredible quality of the memoir.
G.B. Tran is an American, by all accounts. But he is Vietnamese in ethnicity, with parents who fled as refugees with two children in tow. Tran learns about his family past, which is intricate and highly complex (and complicated): his parents came out of families that were torn apart by conflict, war, and betrayal. Their family came together in unusual circumstances, and their life was disrupted by the Vietnam War. So Tran frames the novel around several sets of stories, including his own pilgrimage back to his parents’ hometowns in order to see where his parents—and, by proxy, he—originated. He is surprised by what he finds, and he learns what comes into his identity as an American man, and a Vietnamese man at the same time.
Tran is a good sketch artist, and he marries the illustrations with text in order to create a highly engaging story. I could not stop reading. Sometimes, I had to go back to make sure I was understanding the right family tree. Tran does provide one, but the families are so complex that it can sometimes be hard to keep track. But it’s well worth the effort. Vietnamerica is a rich, rich story about survival, of family, and of identity.