cover image Vietnamese Memories #1: Leaving Saigon

Vietnamese Memories #1: Leaving Saigon

Clément Baloup, trans. from the French by Naomi Alice Botting et al. Humanoids, $19.95 trade paper (164p) ISBN 978-1-59465-658-3

This sensitive, vibrant two-part graphic novel reveals the complex relationship between Vietnam and France, first through the narratives of the author’s father and three other immigrants, then through the experiences of “forced immigrants” whom France imported as laborers during World War II. While Baloup’s father was “lucky,” having been able to easily immigrate, others recount horrors: Mr. Nguyen barely survives brutalities in a communist “re-education” camp. André flees Saigon twice—first during WWII, when his mixed-race heritage arouses suspicions, and again in 1961. Jacques and his family nearly perish at sea along with other refugees. In these stories, the art is expressionist in style, bold and muscular, with thick black lines; fiery colors give way to flashbacks in monochrome gray, with flashes of violence in red. In the second part of the book, the art softens. Water-colors depict the stories, recorded by the journalist Pierre Daum, of Vietnamese men conscripted to work in France during WWII, some of them by force. Twenty thousand men labored in factories, construction, and rice fields; some never received compensation for their work after they returned to Vietnam, where Daum travels to learn about their haunting experiences. Matched with almost luminous portraits of the men, now in their 90s, these stories give human faces to the effects of colonialism and war in the Vietnamese diaspora. (May)