Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey by GB Tran

Vietnamerica: A Family’s Journey
by GB Tran
Villard, 2011

A thumpingly good and unpretentious family biography (with a similar basic premise to Art Spiegelman’s Maus) which examines how author Tran’s parents escaped the Fall of Saigon in 1975 on one of the very last flights to America. The adult Tran apprehensively accompanies them on a visit thirty years later, and learns what they sacrificed in order to leave the devastated country. The sudden loss of shared history is a recurring theme, as is the point that many ordinary Vietnamese didn’t particularly care about the political ideologies of the twenty-year war – they were rather more concerned with not being slaughtered by whoever was in charge at the moment, thank you very much.

The storytelling and artwork is straightforward and clear – Tran is in no hurry to compress things, so his family’s history unscrolls over 288 pages, and uses different colour palettes and styles depending on who is narrating the story. His brush and watercolour artwork is similar to that of Dylan Horrocks: both are influenced by Herge’s Tintin, although not as scarily neat.

This is a graphic novel which is also aware of what makes a good book – each section begins with a blank page and ends with a thoughtful full-page illustration commenting on some aspect of the chapter in the semiotic-rich style of a political cartoon. It’s also educational, covering a lot of Vietnam’s history, and the complexity of the narrative is eased by a helpful family tree on the endpapers.

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