The early years of the Vietnam War through the eyes of a child, as rendered by the graphic artist he became.
Truong shows his command of both text and visuals, as his boyhood provides a compelling perspective on the beginnings of a war that would have such devastating impacts on Southeast Asia and America alike. The young son of a Vietnamese diplomat and the Frenchwoman that he married, “Marco” initially enjoyed an idyllic life outside Washington, D.C.: “America the Beautiful, like a Peanuts cartoon,” he remembers, though the other kids could never get his Asian ethnicity right; they thought he was Chinese or maybe Korean, having never heard of Vietnam. In boyhood games of cowboys or soldiers, he was always the “other.” As the war escalated, he found his life disrupted, and his father was reassigned to their homeland. Readers follow young Marco through a visit to his mother’s relatives in France to their Saigon return. The turmoil he experienced there paralleled the “quiet war” between his parents and the deeper disturbances that plagued his mother, who had resisted their departure from the States and found her worst fears confirmed. “In Mama’s case,” he writes, isolation and war set off this terrible mental disorder”—which the author now recognizes as a bipolar condition that was never properly diagnosed and treated. Much of the American involvement and escalation in Vietnam will be familiar to readers, though Truong seems to have no ideological ax to grind, letting the horrors of Agent Orange (“Even today…deformed children are being born because of this poison”) and the inability of American forces to compete with the Vietcong “to win the hearts and minds of the population” speak for themselves. The value is in the eyewitness accounts by a young boy who would understand more when he was older and develop the artistry necessary to render what he now understands.
A first-rate work of graphic memoir dealing with a pivotal period in modern American history.