Have you ever watched a series that didn’t show events in chronological order? It confusing right, you’ll be sitting and watching only to have the episode suddenly change to a flashback or fast forward into the future. In GB Tran’s 2010 graphic novel Vietnamerica, Tran channels this use of “mixed up timelines” to tell the story of his father, Tri Huu Tran. Readers are taken through an erratic mix of bright and dull colors while being transported back and forth from his early life to period of detainment.
The story opens on page 68 where we see a two dark pages filled with various shades of purple. Tri is being taken into questioning where he is asked about his fathers whereabouts. The story then jumps back to when he was a child talking to his friend about the French Vietmihn. The pages are loaded with bright colors of blues, yellows, reds and greens. Despite the bright colors, we are still made aware of the violence in the streets. This pattern of childhood flashbacks to the time of his detainment reoccur throughout the chapter. It finally ends on page 90 where Tri’s world of color and darkness collide. The top left corner of the page is white, showing a continuation of the happy memories of his engagement shown on page 89. The reality then fades to black as it is revealed to all be a dream Tri is suddenly woken up from as guards throw him out of a moving truck to be a “good Vietnamese citizen”(91).
GB Tran’s use flashbacks to the colorful fathers childhood is meant to represent a more vibrant time in his life. But can it really be considered a better time? Despite all the pleasant colors we see violence between the authorities and the citizens as well as Tri consistently being ridiculed by his mother for wanting to pursue art. However, none of this compares to the torture he has to endure in captivity. The constant jumping back and forth from sad to sadder is incredibly depressing for the reader. It makes us feel sorry for Tri as he can’t seem to catch a break.
Reading the dark pages made me want to return to the bright pages, only to receive an equally disheartening story line. But maybe that was Tran’s intention. This is an incredibly powerful representation of what it was like living in Vietnam during the time of war. You can go through the struggles of everyday living under subjugation of the French or face capture to even worse living conditions. Tran shows the reader through his use of flashbacks the reality of a lose-lose situation.
Tran, Gia Bao. Vietnamerica. New York, Villard Books, 2010
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