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Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham


 

Xolo Score 4.5/5

 

Family Style is a poignant and beautifully illustrated graphic memoir that offers readers a deeply personal and multigenerational exploration of immigration, family, and cultural heritage. The memoir revolves around Thien Pham’s experiences as a Vietnamese refugee living in the U.S. The biography skillfully weaves together his family’s history and a coming-of-age narrative. The graphic format adds a unique layer of intimacy to the story, allowing the reader to witness the small moments of everyday life and the significant milestones that shape Pham’s identity.

 

*** SPOILERS AHEAD ***

 

Family Style pays homage to traditional Vietnamese cuisine, a metaphor for preserving cultural traditions and memories. He details pivotal moments in his life through food—each chapter is devoted to a particular meal. His mom made and sold bánh cuốn at the refugee camp in Thailand, where they awaited relocation. Russ, the White man who helped the Pham family when they arrived in the United States, made steak and potatoes for their first American dinner. The fusion of visuals and narrative in these culinary moments adds a uniquely sensory layer to the memoir.


One of the standout features of Family Style is Pham’s remarkable ability to capture the emotional complexities of being a Vietnamese refugee living in the U.S. Whether he is depicting his parents’ reliance on government assistance, the family’s eviction when a white neighbor alerted their family friend’s landlord or unbreakable support of the Vietnamese American community, Pham’s illustrations bring a depth of emotion that stays with readers well after the final panel.


The memoir also delves into the multifaceted nature of cultural identity. Pham skillfully explores the tension between his Vietnamese heritage and American upbringing, offering insight into these conflicting emotions. Pham explores what it means to be a U.S. citizen as a Vietnamese immigrant. When his parents get a job as farmworkers, his mom quickly says they are officially American. However, Pham is not as eager to adopt this new identity as he sees the subtle and overt racism his family endures. But as Pham is older and has found personal security in his identities decides to become a naturalized U.S. citizen and vote in upcoming elections.


Family Style is a uniquely savory, humorous, and profound graphic memoir about growing up as a Vietnamese immigrant in the U.S.


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