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GB Tran was born and raised in the United States. In this graphic memoir he returns to Vietnam to research his family’s history, especially their experiences of the Vietnam War and experiences adapting to life as immigrants living in the United States.
The book trailer is a great introduction to the book and its author.
TRAN, GB. Vietnamerica. 281p. Villard. 2011. Tr $30. ISBN 978-0-345-50872-0. LC 2010032224.
Adult/High School–In Tran’s memoir of his parents’ life in Vietnam–and his own discovery of that story–theme, narrative, and art work together to create a deeply compelling graphic novel. Tran meditates on war, loss, and memory, but the overriding theme is the complexity, hardship, and reward of family life, a theme that finds full life in the author’s multi-layered narrative. Chapters narrated by Tran’s mother proceed chronologically from her own and her future husband’s childhoods under the Japanese and French occupations to their escape from Vietnam in 1975. In alternating chapters, narrated by Tran himself, the narrative travels in roughly reverse chronology, from his most recent trip to Vietnam in 2006 to his decision sometime in the 1990s to make his first trip. These chapters are interspersed with increasing layers of flashbacks by various relatives, which eventually overtake Tran’s narration entirely. This intricate structuring creates suspense and mystery, but its more important function is to highlight the way in which family history is constructed: layered, repetitive, nonlinear, contradictory, collaborative, and ultimately productive of both family and self-identity. Tran’s color scheme is equally complex, switching between black and white, desaturated, natural, and oversaturated color depending on the tone, narrator, and time period. His artwork–richly detailed but never overcrowded, realistic while allowing for abstraction, and expertly composed–wrings meaning out of the smallest detail. This novel could easily find a place in the classroom but its broad set of issues and graphic format should also appeal to a wide variety of teens.–Mark Flowers, John F. Kennedy Library, Solano County, CA
Filed under: Graphic Novels, Memoir, Nonfiction
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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