Text & Artwork: GB Tran
Publisher Info: Publisher: Villard Books; Hardcover: 288 pages; Dimensions: 9.4 x 7.3 x 1.2 inches; Pub. Date: 01/25/2011; Retail Price: $30.00
"....your name is very significant in Vietnamese," his mother begins. "[Gia-Bao] means a precious treasure passed down from generation to generation."
GB Tran doesn't know very much about his family's history. But then again, I doubt there are very many young Americans who do.
"You named me family jewels?! Can't I just change it to GB?"
The mother scowls a knowing scowl. She despairs in her son's flippant ignorance and disregard for family custom; she is constantly reminding him, even until his adulthood, that he'll "never understand" the soft-spoken luxuries one finds in calling a culture his or her own. To call a culture your own, you must sacrifice for it, less some modern convenience wash it away amid the aberrant din of whispered insults or fickle clickety-clicks of a tourist's pocket camera. For Gia-Bao Huu Tran, or rather, for his family who emigrated from Vietnam in 1975, this is Vietnamerica: a purgatorial time and place where the threat of losing one's culture is as resonant as the hope that it might one day be resurrected, stronger than ever before.
The scope of the graphic novel widens to encompass the stories of GB's father, mother, and the grandparents
Vietnamerica is a personal journey actively recalling the footsteps his family members took over the several decades leading up to and including the fall of Saigon, now Ho Chi Minh City.
The graphic novel blossoms quietly under the author's even-handed sketches of a guileless and winding family history that is at best a real struggle to decipher. GB's father, Tri Huu Tran, is a hard-faced and unsympathetic man. Born in Mytho in the south, Tri was an educated and artistic youth who grew up not knowing (much less caring about) his father; eventually becoming a sort of over-compensating caregiver, devoting all his energy to everything at once, a tendency that ultimately left many projects, and relationships, unfinished. GB's mother, Dzung Chung Tran, is a very patient and ultimately exhaustible woman. Born in the rugged and isolated village of Langson, far in the north, Dzung's relatives belonged to a larger family of millions of Vietnamese who eventually fled the volatile north to escape either the Japanese, French, or later American conflicts with Vietnamese revolutionaries
As graphic literature, Vietnamerica enlists a heaping variety of color and compositional schemes to sufficiently differentiate the stories of each personality. GB Tran's style embraces a singularly 2D design, with calm and controlled character art, and minimally invasive inlaid graphics.
GB's father, for example, always wears a pair of dark square-rimmed glasses, frequently hunches forward, crosses his arms, and speaks resolutely -- most apparent because the typography chosen for his words are in all caps.