I’d been eyeing this series for several years and finally asked for them for atheist Christmas (the present-focused non-religious version my parents decided to bequeath us). I enjoyed these and they’re definitely worth reading, but they were more removed and distant feeling than I thought they’d be. The first volume follows Truong’s family as they move to South Vietnam for his father to become Prime Minister Diem’s translator. His French mother buckles under the strain of living in the midst of an escalating war, and the scenes of Truong’s childhood are the strongest part of this book, as he grapples with his parents’ tumultuous relationship, his own relationships with his siblings, and their situation as outsiders and insiders within South Vietnam. The second volume tells the rest of their family’s experiences after they leave South Vietnam and move to England, as well as wrapping up the overarching narrative of the Vietnam War.
I think the best parts of these books are when he focuses the light on his family and their personal experiences of history. The social and cultural dynamics are really interesting, and he has a good eye for an incisive scene. The more straight forward sections dealing with Vietnamese history and the war are also interesting, but feel more removed and rote. I can see why he intertwined them together, and I do think it works overall, but I would find myself wanting to get through the history section and back to the family. The restrained color palette he chose is striking and works very well with his art, which I really liked. I’d recommend this for people interested in the Vietnam War from a South Vietnamese perspective. It made me think and I appreciated reading about the war outside of the American lens.
Warnings for: graphic depictions of war (death, torture, violence), suicide, drugs