The Best We Could Do – Thi Bui (2017)

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Strolling around the shelves at the library (as one does), I saw this new graphic book title, and, having felt a drought on those lately, checked this out to read. It was a corker.

The Vulture’s Abraham Riesman has called this graphic memoir “one of the first great works of socially relevant comics art of the Trump era” and I agree. It’s a very timely topic.

Author Thi Bui had grown up in America (except for her early years) and was the child of parents who had been part of the original “Boat People” group who had fled South Vietnam during the 1970s. Struggling to understand her parents and the difficulties they faced as they started their new lives in America, this book explores their story.

When Bui becomes a mother for the first time, her views on her parents came more into focus and she found that she knew little about their old lives back in Vietnam during the U.S. war.

Her relationship with her parents had been strained as she grew up in the U.S., and her becoming a parent herself was the impetus for her to learn more about each of their own personal stories.

As Bui slowly reveals the pieces of their earlier lives, it fits together with her own life and allows her to see her parents through a new prism — as a daughter and as a mother herself.

It’s a circular narrative that winds through time and geography so it’s a read that you have to pay attention to. It’s not a daydreaming kind of book, but then neither is the immigrant story around which it revolves.

The plot is the fairly typical trope of “family starts in one place, has a tough journey to reach another place, and then struggles to fit in”, but Bui’s art adds a new level of detail to the story, refreshing the narrative arc through her simple but arresting illustrations.

By the end of the book, you (as the reader) can also feel empathy for her parents (including for Bui herself). It’s a really good read about one person’s family, and may well trigger thoughts about your own parents in the same vein.

It can be easy to forget that your mum and dad are people with their own lives and their own histories sometimes, but Bui’s efforts to trace her own family’s evolution is a timely reminder of both that and the immigration debate going on in the administration today.

Good one.

 

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Thunder and Lightning – Laura Redniss (2016)

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Lauren Redniss has finally completed Thunder and Lightning: Weather Past, Present and Future (2017), another book in her own style that makes it so hard to categorize. It’s a combination of art and science, of fact and passion, of words and graphics, so that in the end, it’s tough to put under one label: Scientific manga, perhaps (except it’s much more than that).

After my read of Redniss’ earlier work (Radioactive, a slightly more straightforward and controlled graphic representation of the Curie family’s lives), I know somewhat to expect with her work, so I wasn’t too surprised to see her rendering of scientific phenomena linked with weather and climate. I just haven’t really seen atmospheric science presented in such an innovative way. And actually, the book covers more than straight atmo sci… It’s a huge ranging book, and is similar to how someone would fall down into related Wikipedia rabbit holes if they had some time to spare. The topics are related, and yet ramble widely across the hemisphere, but it’s all interesting both in content and how it’s presented.)

(Sidenote: Redniss defines Weather as state of the atmosphere. Climate: prevailing weather patterns on a larger scale. FYI.)

Chapters are titled with fairly self-explanatory headings, some of which cover huge topics leaving you, as the reader, to wonder where you’ll travel in the next chapter. “Profit”, “Pleasure” and others are presented, along with “Cold”, “Rain” and the more obvious categorization. (The “Pleasure” chapter, incidentally, was a lovely topic to read about as it included the BBC shipping forecast which I remember hazily from my youth. I am not sure what exactly the forecast is saying, but it’s sounds lovely to hear if you’ve ever searched it out.)

So, this is non-fiction ramble through both the hard science and random facts linked with weather. In fact, I was never quite certain what I was going to be reading about when I turned the next page, which was in equal amounts both exciting and frustrating.

I think most people would learn something from this book, whether you are an expert or not, and so much of the information was new to me. For example, Redniss designed a new font just for this book called Qaneq LR, Qaneq being an Inuit word for snow. (Interestingly, Redniss also addressed the legend that more northern First People groups have loads of words for the different kind of snow that they experience. True or not, you decide.)

This ended up being a good read.