The graphic novel Vietnamerica is a biographical tale that follows the author’s family through three generations struggling to survive in a land ravaged by war, and their eventual relocation to the United States.
As a young man born and raised in America, GB Tran had little interest in his heritage, a consequence of both his own adolescent self-involvement and his parents’ reluctance to discuss their previous lives in Vietnam. When, at the age of 30, Tran joins his parents for a visit home, he learns much about them and the rest of his family. Aspects of his parents that often confused him – his father’s distance, and his mother’s commitment to their marriage despite her sometimes vocal unhappiness – become more understandable as Tran learns of the personal hardships they’ve endured and the sacrifices they’ve made to allow him to live a life free of war and oppression.
Tran’s skill as a storyteller transports the reader back and forth between the past and present, occasionally revisiting key moments so the reader may re-experience them with a perspective broadened by history. Written and illustrated by Tran in an impressionistic palate of sepia tones, washed out purples and faded tropical colors, Vietnamerica’s art is reminiscent of the kind of pleasantly aging snapshots one could find in any family’s photo album. This sense of vague recognition is all the more appropriate, for Vietnamerica isn’t just a tale about the Vietnam war, or immigration: this is both a family’s story, and a story for anyone who has family.