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Thi Bui speaks about ‘The Best We Could Do’

Published on November 11, 2021

Thi Bui speaks about ‘The Best We Could Do’

Graphic memoir is Eastern’s 2021 Big Read selection

Thi Bui and her graphic novel, "The Best We Could Do."
Thi Bui and her illustrated memoir "The Best We Could Do."

Eastern Connecticut State University hosted Thi Bui, author of “The Best We Could Do,” on Nov. 11 as part of the University’s “Big Read” program. Eastern is one of 61 organizations awarded a Big Read grant this year by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). 

Bui’s best-selling illustrated memoir recounts her family’s life before and during the Vietnam War, their escape from Vietnam when Bui was a child and their immigration to the United States as refugees. Twelve years in the making, her debut novel was published in 2017 and received the American Book Award, among other accolades.

“This was a book I struggled with for a long time,” she told the virtual audience. “With immigration stories, so much gets packed away… a lot of tough things. But a book is the perfect vehicle (to open up).”

Bui described “The Best We Could” as a love story to her parents and country of origin. “I remember being an angry graduate student with disagreements about the academic and pop culture representations of the Vietnam War.”

Thi Bui speaks virtually at Eastern's Big Read event.
Thi Bui speaks virtually at Eastern's Big Read event.

After years of research, reconstructing childhood memories and delving into the oral histories of her parents and siblings, the project became a means for Bui to give voice to a new narrative as well as reconcile “the hole in my heart that’s in the shape of Vietnam.”

“During her extensive interview process, Bui found herself stepping out of the role of child when speaking with her parents. “I started to see them as individuals outside of me.”

The graphic memoir illustrates painful and traumatic experiences endured by her family during the civil war, refugee camps, immigration and assimilation into American culture. “There were days I did more crying than writing or drawing,” she said, “but that was part of the process.”

One strategy Bui utilized to reconstruct memories was to draw herself as a child. “It’s very therapeutic. If you are mad at anyone, try drawing them as a child.” 

Bui mentioned that her favorite scenes to make in the book always involved nature and water. “Water is a powerful metaphor to me. It’s played such a role in Vietnamese history; a life-giving and taking force for Vietnamese people. I remain fascinated and scared by the water.”

For more on Eastern’s Big Read program, visit

Written by Michael Rouleau

Categories: Art Gallery, Arts, Library