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Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey

January 31, 2011

I’m going to start with the bottom-line:

Vietnamerica: A Family's Journey
Vietnamerica is an utterly remarkable piece of American literature. Every panel is rich with painstaking effort. On every page, GB Tran has lovingly rendered the wounds and scars of human imperfection. It is an illustrated journey that pieces together the triumphs and tragedies of three generations, laying bare the history of Tran’s family in a manner so frank it borders on the taboo.

I met GB Tran last summer in San Diego. I was walking the halls of Comic-Con and in the cacophony of Wonder Woman costumes and fully actuating lightsaber displays, a simple poster caught my girlfriend’s eye. The title leapt out from the page: Vietnamerica. And I was immediately hooked.

On the surface, the concept of Vietnamerica is simple. Gia-Bao (GB) is a young Vietnamese American, born and raised in South Carolina. He’s largely indifferent to his family’s history until he travels to Vietnam with his parents. A passion builds in him to uncover the details of the journey his grandparents and parents took, from the colonial occupations of Vietnam to the fall of Saigon.

As a Vietnamese American, I grew up knowing very little about my family’s history. My apathy as a child was reinforced by my father’s reluctance to speak on the subject.

When I received an early copy of the book some months later, I devoured it in a single sitting. This is a graphic novel that broaches the subject of family history, in a deeply personal and shockingly visual way. The backdrop of the Japanese, French, and American occupations made the personal relationships achingly stark.

The final print version is stunningly gorgeous. Tran’s art has a vitality and flow that serves the story well. There are compositions that splash across two pages, strikingly capturing scenes of occupation, war, and the frantic scramble from Saigon.

Vietnamerica: fall of Saigon

It’s not always an easy read. The material itself is heart-wrenching. The pace of events sometimes rushes by with blinding speed, and the family tree is complex and interweaving, with separations and reunions split by decades. There’s tragedy, of course, but there are also beautiful, simple moments of life – intimate moments of friendship, love, and laughter.

If you have ever felt a connection to the immigrant experience, if you are born of a generation that benefited from the bruises and blood of the one that came before, then this memoir will resonate as literature rarely does. And if this is the first time you’ve looked deeply at the story of the Vietnamese diaspora, then know that this is the sort of grand epic that begins to make sense only when told through the words of people who lived it.

Vietnamerica: a family again

I’ve already bought a copy for my father. It’s currently available on Amazon.

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About the Author

Mike Le is the Media Liaison for Racebending. A native-born Californian, he objects to shoveling snow and is a strong proponent of pollo asado fries. Mike has been interviewed about media diversity by dozens of news organizations, including the Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe, BBC Radio, and Public Radio International.

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  • http://Website wanderinglady

    Just want to make a slight correction: Halle Berry was the first African-American woman to win an Oscar for Best Actress in a Leading Role. Hattie McDaniel won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for “Gone With The Wind”. Check out this reprint of a 1940 article by Hollywood gossip columnist Louella Parsons, dated language and all: http://wysinger.homestead.com/hattiemcdaniel.html

    • Marissa Lee

      Thanks, I will correct the article!