Tag Archives: Biographical Fiction

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718779
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The times we live in aren’t easy. We live in xenophobic times. As much as I hate to say it, it is true and we cannot turn a blind eye to this one. In these times, as much as I don’t want to read what stares in my face all over the place – on Twitter, on FB, on almost every social media – hatred for a religion or class, or a set of people that aren’t yours, but you read because you feel you will understand and empathize better and this is the time “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” came into my life.

This is a graphic memoir, which means it happened to the author and her family – a set of events – after her parents moved to the land of milk and honey from Vietnam on a boat. The story is deceptively simple but layered with relationships issues, immigration and belonging issues and above all: what it really takes to blend in? Do people who come from outside can after all be called citizens of a particular country even after decades or do they have to keep proving themselves and their patriotism over and over again?

Bui’s story is the story of her family – as she begins to adjust to being a first-time mother, she reminiscences what it means to be a parent from her parents’ perspective – from the sacrifices to unnoticed gestures to love that need not be spoken all the time. In all of this is America – Grand Old America in the background (not as much) always making them question their identity and the importance of home. There are panels that are so breathtakingly beautiful and how they mingle with the prose – will make you weep and in the next panel before you know it you are smiling and cheering on for Thi and her circumstances.

This book as Viet Thanh Nguyen claims will break your heart and then heal it – did just that for me. What is funny is that I also spoke to my maternal aunt after reading this book to know her memories of coming to India from Pakistan during the Great Partition and what it was like for them. “The Best We Could Do” as the title suggests is just that – the best they did and how sometimes you have to keep doing your best to find your place in the world.

Mikhail and Margarita by Julie Lekstrom Himes

mikhail-and-margarita-by-julie-lekstrom-himes Title: Mikhail and Margarita
Author: Julie Lekstrom Himes
Publisher: Europa Editions
ISBN: 978-1609453756
Genre: Literary Fiction
Pages: 336
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 Stars

I had read “The Master and Margarita” in college. It was a long time ago. It was one of those prescribed classics that you just had to read and I remember loving it a lot, after initially not liking it at all. It was too fantastical for me to begin with and then the allegorical symbols rang home and I couldn’t stop turning the pages, hungry for more. Bulgakov’s writing cannot be described by the words I have at my disposal. He is that good. What you must also remember is that “The Master and Margarita” was written under a totalitarian regime and how it got published is another story. For now, I will stick to the review of “Mikhail and Margarita”.

Most times, I get scared to pick up a book of historic significance and background. More so, if a writer has perhaps reimagined a certain time in history and tried to recreate it for the reader, I try and stay away from such books, mostly. This time I took a chance and read “Mikhail and Margarita” by Julie Lekstrom Himes. I don’t know if the story is real or not, but I know one thing: Ms. Himes sure knows how to tell a tale. I could not stop reading this book and right after I finished it, I wanted to go back to the Bulgakov classic.

“Mikhail and Margarita” as you might have guessed from the title is a story of Mikhail and his love for a woman named Margarita that inspired him to write “The Master and Margarita”. Let me also tell you that in real-life it was Bulgakov’s third wife Yelena Shilovskaya who was the inspiration for the character Margarita. I am guessing that Himes’ Margarita is also inspired by his real-life. Himes has also made this a love-triangle with an agent of Stalin’s police who is also in love with Margarita. The year it is set in is 1933 and how at that time Bulgakov’s career was at a complete dead-end. The book is brilliant – it speaks of passionate love, more passionate ideals, and the regime that will not allow any of this. All it wants is human sacrifice in the name of the country.

Himes’ writing is taut, detailed and well-researched. The book will make you at some points even go back to “The Master and Margarita” (but not so many). Himes’ characters are just everyday people trying to deal with a country and its policies that don’t give them the independence to think, forget falling in love. Much like what is happening today or might happen in the near future where USA and some other countries are concerned. I would highly recommend “Mikhail and Margarita” for the newness of plot, the writing and the way the book will make you think.