Saturday, August 13, 2011

GB Tran: Vietnamerica

When I told a friend about this book, she asked me "Where has themacinator gone, and what have you done with her?" She had recently read my posts about my forays into gaming and when I mentioned that I had checked out a graphic novel at the library, it was true, it sounded like I had swapped myself out for a new, kind of creepy version of myself. In my defense, I had no intention of checking out a graphic novel, and also in my defense, the book is actually not a novel, it's a graphic nonfiction novel. Go figure that one out. I believe the term is graphic memoir, but I'm not an expert in this particular type of geekery, so I can't be sure.

"Vietnamerica" by GB Tran is a family story of Tran learning his family history in Vietnam, and to some extent, of the cultural breakdown as the family becomes Vietnamese-American. There is a pretty cool clip of the story of writing/drawing the book on Tran's website, that actually helps make the book more intelligible. As my first graphic (nonfiction) novel, it took me about half of the book to get used to the format, and I found myself not really following until the second half. By then, I was used to the characters- I could visually understand who Tran was, who was his dad, his mom, etc. Partially my confusion was due to the vast number of family members (the family tree was incomplete, vast, and introduced way too late), and partially it was due to my rookie-ness at the format. Only in the second half did I realize that the tight cursive script was Tran's mother speaking her story, and that the boxed writing was a different voice. I could then distinguish Tran's voice, his father, etc. It was an "aha" moment- I didn't always need to follow visual cues- the writing was a "font," and I could use the fonts to tell what was going on. This probably should have been obvious.

I also found myself victim to sensory overload. The art in this book is incredible. "Vietnamerica" is full color, but the schemes for each type of scene are muted and limited; the visual themes repeat as story lines come up. The art is really beautiful- Tran is clearly a gifted artist. I almost felt guilty skimming over the art, as each frame is visually arresting. Again, I'm a reader of traditional books, though, and really didn't know how to take it all in. The book is not enough to be a "standalone" traditional book, and I can't really judge it as a graphic (nonfiction) novel, since it's my first. But it's gorgeous, and the story is moving, if a bit thin. Glad to see that my library carries it!