Borders of Kinship

By: Stella Oh  

This paper examines the graphic narrative The Best We Could Do (2017) by Thi Bui that chronicles her family’s harrowing journey as refugees from Vietnam to the United States. Her autobiographical work speaks to war, migration, and displacement during times of trauma. Employing extensive flashbacks to the Vietnam War and subsequent migrations to different geographic regions and countries, Bui’s graphic narrative, suggest what Delueze calls a “rhizomatic character” signaling an interconnected context of vision and revision, problematizing the disciplinary power of regulatory vision. The Best We Could Do provides a revisionist history in its critique of narratives and representations of Vietnamese refugees. It also challenges us to engage with an unraveling of trauma, time, and kinship as individual, family, and national identity are reconstructed through visual and narrative forms of communal witnessing. Utilizing comic’s “unique ability to represent the impossible demands of trauma, memory and narration,” I explore ways in which images use tactile dimensions to represent trauma from the past that bleeds into the present. The architecture of The Best We Could Do presents comic, geographic, and temporal grammar that locate the position and possibilities of place for the female refugee protagonist. The comic structure provides a medium to express the uncomfortable and sometimes impossible reckoning with the losses of war. Replete with incomplete imprints and fragments of memory, Bui’s graphic narrative analyzes ways in which the borders of such fragmented memories create a sensuous knowledge.

Vietnam, graphic narrative
2019 Special Focus—Border Crossing Narratives: Learning from the Refugee Experience
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Prof. Stella Oh