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Infinite Country by Patricia Engel | Thoughts

   Published : 2021   ||    Format : print   ||    Location : Colombia ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆   What was it about the country that kept everyone hostage to its fantasy? The previous month, on its own soil, an American man went to his job at a plant and gunned down fourteen coworkers, and last spring alone there were four different school shootings. A nation at war with itself, yet people still spoke of it as some kind of paradise.. Thoughts : Infinite Country follows two characters - young Talia, who at the beginning of this book, escapes a girl’s reform school in North Colombia so that she can make her previously booked flight to the US. Before she can do that, she needs to travel many miles to reach her father and get her ticket to the rest of her family. As we follow Talia’s treacherous journey south, we learn about how she ended up in the reform school in the first place and why half her family resides in the US. Infinite Country tells the story of her family through the other protagonist, El

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui | Thoughts

Published in: 2017
Format read in: ebook
Location: Vietnam, US
Rating: 5/5

Why I read it: Always a fan of graphic memoirs, I had this one on my list as soon as it was released. 

One sentence review: If there ever was a book that showed the resilience of the human spirit or the sacrifices someone made for a loved one, this was it. 

Who should read it: Pick it if you enjoy graphic novels or memoirs. Pick it if you like to read about the immigrant experience. Pick it if you want to learn about the human impact of the Vietnam war on one family. Just pick it.

About: This illustrated memoir is about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent—the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. (From Goodreads)

It's been couple of months since I read this book, and I wish I hadn't waited this long to review it. On the one hand, I've forgotten some details within the book, while on the other, I'm just as lost for words now as I was when I initially read it. 

This book has to be required reading for anyone looking to read about Asian Americans, Vietnam War, or immigration. There is so much depth and breadth in here than I expected to find when I started reading the book. I don't know about you, but growing up, I often heard my parents talk about "back in my days...". They'd start this stream when my brother or I have been acting entitled or spoilt. We weren't facing any of the hardships they faced so there wasn't a better way to impart a humility lesson. As an adult, when I think of the resources they had access to as kids and what they have managed to achieve despite that, I feel a huge amount of pride in their accomplishments and gratitude that they did their best to give us opportunities in life. Reading through Thi Bui's memoir reminded me of similar struggles that appear to be very persistent in those years, although for vastly different reasons. 

The author starts with the present - where life is good. And then she takes you on a ride through her family's story, which begins in Vietnam and ends in the United States. There is a clear sense through the pages that nothing can be taken for granted, that no one knew if they would be alive the next day, and that friend one day could be foe the next day. 

Thi Bui's father had a difficult upbringing. He was poor and struggled to keep a job. He was no better at looking after his kids but when you see the kind of upbringing he had, his actions make more sense. On the other hand, her mother was born to a well-off family but she was still able to gracefully handle all the struggles she faced after marrying into a different way of life than she was used to. Together they go through so much - some good and some tragic, against the backdrop of the Vietnam war and the internal strifes and idealogical battles that lead to the war. 

While I've forgotten some of the details in this book, I do remember the huge sense of loss and empathy I felt at the end of the book. So many around the world have left their home countries (and will continue to do so) to a new place hoping to forge a better life elsewhere. Not everyone is successful. Not everyone is welcomed. While Bui's family's migration story is a success one (that isn't really a spoiler), by the end of the book, you can see the toll it has taken. Are you the same person anymore when you let go of the identity of your native country? How do you make a new life for yourself, when you're new to the language and the way of life in this new place? And what if all this happens when you're not young anymore and therefore not as open-minded? 

If it isn't clear yet, this is a book I'll strongly recommend to anyone. It is in graphic format - which works so well for this story. To me, there are great parallels in storytelling between this one and Maus, Vietnamerica, and Boxers and Saints - all of which are huge favorites over here. They've all told stories of personal struggles faced within one's own country and the many tragedies that have accompanied the protagonists. Thi Bui's story is very personal, and yet is an embodiment of a whole group of people who left Vietnam during the Nam war and migrated to other places. I know I'll be rereading this one before long.

What's your favorite book about the human struggles during the Vietnam war?