mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Mekong Monet. (10)

Vietnamerica by GB Tran.

Last comes your first name.
Family name, then middle name,
then finally, yours.

This is carmyarmyofme's second pick for Eleven-Books Club, her first one being The Poisoner's Handbook...& I really liked it! You know, I normally shy away from autobiographical comics, since I tend to find them insufferable; they seem so anxious to be taken "seriously" that they all dwell on what in a film would be called "Oscar bait," but what I call "feel-bad stories." You know, the opposite of "feel-good," so like, stories of physical abuse or addiction or whatever. Jennifer reminded me that I liked American Born Chinese & The Arrival; maybe I like immigration comics? I don't know, I couldn't tell you. I liked this, though, I can tell you that much. First off, the problems all of which dovetail into the broader issue-- clarity of identity. You know, I stopped reading The Walking Dead once I'd caught up to the individual issues, because once you have black & white illustrations, it gets hard to suss out who is who. There is a reason Superman has a spit curl, & that Reed Richards or Hal Jordan have grey sideburns; heck, there is a reason that people in comics have their sigil on their chest-- it is easy to get confused. In Vietnamerica, there is a family tree on the inside of the cover, which I ended up referring to about as often as the family tree in One Hundred Years of Solitude.

That family tree, while a necessary tool, itself caused some issues-- see, the genealogy of their family includes a couple of dead or deadbeat French folks, too, & a lot of the children of each generation actually come from previous marriages. Reading the story, this is sort of taken as...well, GB Tran's family don't really talk about it, but it isn't exactly secret, so the narrative's relationship to the story "reveals" are a complicated, too. Events in general are a little jumpy, due to the nature of the frame, which roughly centers around Tran going to Vietnam to meet his grandparents. Their stories, his parents stories, his life in America, all intercut. Anyhow, what was so great about this? I don't know, the verisimilitude of it? It certainly reads as true & meaningful, without playing up dramatic angles past plausibility or reader engagement. Yeah, it sounds like there was some awful stuff going on, & by not giving it the Hollywood glitz, Tran gives it that much more impact. It seems like it actually happened, because it did. He doesn't need to use hyperbole or paint it in dark lines; the real world will handle that. Art wise, the modified Communist propaganda look is strong, but the photo collage of his parents, not sprung until three-quarters of the way through the book, really hits it out of the park.
Tags: 11books, 11booksclub, books, haiku, tran

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