(I've been writing this review for three nights and never quite getting it right, so I'm just going to go ahead with what I've written so far.) This year, I seem to have read a lot of books about characters (real or fictional) who try to get to know their roots better. Some go to their native country or the country their ancestors are from. Others reconnect with their families. I don't know if I'm semi-consciously levitating towards such books or if it's all chance. This is the second time that I'm reading a book on such a theme via the graphic medium (the first was Maus). I was curious about how this would turn out. On one hand, this is a great medium for demonstrating the feelings and emotions of the characters. On the other hand, getting to know your roots mean a lot of introspection - not always well-displayed through pictures. Some amount of dialogue would be needed and the artist's talent determines how well he can convey that without getting too wordy.
Vietnamerica by GB Tran is an account of the author's trip to Vietnam with his parents and his discovery of his family's rich ancestral history, of which he knew nothing about, nor professed any interest in earlier. He had a vague idea that his parents had fled Saigon in the 70s, but they never talked about it. It is years later, when the author's two living grandparents die within a few months of each other, that they make the trip to Vietnam - to pay respects and to connect with their history.
At 320+ large and very colorful pages, this book is huge! There are a lot of characters, and at times, I did get them mixed up - I didn't have trouble with names, but occasionally I forgot who a specific character was, or which set of grandparents the author was talking about. Still, after a while, I did get them all straight and adapted well to the flow of the book. It's especially painful thinking how much the effect of something that happened a generation or two ago can still be felt so acutely. There's the grandfather who was pretty much absent from his son's life, but then that son grows up to be a distant and taciturn father.
Overall, I thought this was a pretty decent attempt at the exploration of one's past in graphic media. I don't think it worked as well as it could have. GB Tran's artwork is certainly very beautiful. There are vivid splashes of color across the pages. The author however doesn't appear to be actively interested in all the history - he seems to be a disinterested spectator at best. Eventually, when he does make the jump, I found it hard to believe. Still, the history of Vietnam made for rich reading. It's always nice to read about it from the local perspective.
I borrowed this book from my library.