The story opens and ends in 2005 with the author giving birth to her first child and then switches to 1999 when the author left home to move in with her boyfriend. The cultural differences between the author and her mother and their inability to communicate confounds the author and results in her wanting to search for her roots in Vietnam. Her memories move back to 1978 Malaysia where the Buis lived in a refugee camp for several months before emigrating to America. Then we travel back in time and to Vietnam as the author's father tells her the family history. This is where most of the story is told.
The Bui family was quite resourceful in adapting to the changing political terrain in Vietnam. They were always able to remain just above destitution until the Vietnam War decimated the country. The Buis were not concerned with which side of the war was right or wrong. They were only trying to survive and keep their extended family safe. Author Thi Bui's parents' relationships with their own parents is dissected and how the grandparents coped with a changing country is shown. Likewise, Thi Bui's siblings' relationships with their parents also unfolds as they grow up and learn to deal with the harshness of their lives.
I was captivated by the family's story and believe that their cultural background aided their ability to survive conflict and make a new life in a different country. The Vietnamese are longsuffering. They are family oriented and as long as the family is OK, life is good.
I am unclear on the reason for title of the book. Obviously, the family's sufferings to survive could be the reason the author chose "The Best We Could Do." However, I think it is about her relationship with her mother. Thi Bui became assimilated into American culture including its expression of affection. Her mother rarely displayed affection or said what she felt in her heart, which I believe is pretty normal for a person who experienced the trauma of war and displacement. These differences seemed to create a divide between them that could not be breached. Ms. Bui clearly wants to be closer to her mother. Another thing I noticed is that throughout the book the author included several private moments that she had with her mother. She did not share her siblings having these moments. With the book opening and closing with the author having a baby, and her mother being present for the birth, instead of this being a family saga, it seems more like the back story for the reason that their relationship is restrained.
Since the book is a graphic novel I feel that I must mention the artwork. Ms. Bui used pen and ink drawings to tell her story. They were colored in cool-toned orange shades.
The Best We Could Do is such a great story that I read it twice in a row. I cannot recommend it more highly. I think that you will love it and, at the very least, you will learn about the history of the Vietnamese in the 20th century.