Sunday, May 8, 2011

Vietnamerica by GB Tran

Author GB Tran's family "crammed into a U.S. cargo plane bound for America on the evening of April 25, 1975. It was one of the last to take off before the Viet Cong bombs destroyed the Saigon airport later that night." Tran's graphic novel biography pieces together the events that led up to that dramatic escape. He goes back two generations, covering the series of occupations of Vietnam by the Japanese, the French and the Americans.

Unlike his two eldest siblings, GB was born in the U.S.A. He didn't become interested in his family history until he was in his late twenties, when he happened to come across a book about the Vietnam war that his father had given to him as a graduation gift years earlier. Seeing the inscription that his father had written: "To my son, Gia Bao" and a quote from Confucius "A man without history is a tree without roots" spurred him to accompany his parents on their next trip to Vietnam.

In the way that we piece together history from the memories of living relatives, Tran's account sometimes seemed like a jumble of anecdotes. When I found it a challenge to keep track of who and when, the family tree drawn inside the book liners helped immensely. The ink brushwork is mostly in full colour, but the preponderance of black suits the sombre story. Pages of solid black, except for a drifting leaf, are especially effective. They convey the magnitude of loss faced by refugees - the severing from one's roots and culture.

This poignant account of the upheaval and displacement caused by war will appeal to readers who enjoy stories about resilience and survival.

No comments: