Confucius says — read this graphic novel about Vietnam’s lingering personal legacy

for The Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

“A man without history is a tree without roots.”

With just those eight words from Confucius, GB Tran went to Vietnam.

The comic book artist was, to follow the simile, a rootless tree; he had never been to the birthplace of his parents, never expressed interest in their history before coming to America. But that changed after he discovered the quote — which his parents had inscribed in the front cover of a book about the Vietnam War — as he moved into his Williamsburg apartment about 10 years ago.

Tran knew that his parents had escaped their homeland in the final hours of the fall of Saigon, but Tran soon realized that his family history was a lot more complex, including a grandfather who had abandoned his family to fight for the Viet Cong; a grandmother who had an affair with a French soldier; and parents that took one of the last planes out of the country.

It’s all heavy stuff, which Tran handles remarkably in “Vietnameri­ca,” out this month. Tran does more than simply explore his heritage, but he acknowledges his evolving relationship with it — from avoiding it, to confronting it, to finally embracing it.

Creating “Vietnamerica” was a journey in and of itself. In the two years it took him to write, pencil and ink the book, he hit upon myriad ways to tell the story. Parts are drawn like propaganda posters, others told in a Sunday comics style. Scrabble pieces spell out words such as “threatening” and “culture,” creating a new layer of context.

The styles may change from page to page, but “Vietnamerica” is honest throughout, down to the admission that Tran was a clueless teen so divorced from his own history that he passed up his first chance to travel to Vietnam just so he could stay home and play video games. But for the author, this truth was essential, no matter how much it hurt.

“Putting myself out there — and more specifically, my family’s personal history filtered through me — isn’t any concern,” he said. “I don’t have any say in how readers will respond, so this book’s most important goal was to preserve their story for me.”

“Vietnamerica” is available at Bergen Street Comics [470 Bergen St. between Flatbush and Fifth avenues in Park Slope, (718) 230-5600]; Desert Island [540 Metropolitan Ave. near Union Street in Williamsburg, (718) 388-5087]; St. Mark’s Comics [148 Montague St. between Henry and Clinton streets in Brooklyn Heights, (718) 935-0911]. For info, visit

Updated 5:22 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: