It’s another “wow” issue, though a more gradual one. This issue pairs with the previous one, still telling the story of Chua, creator Craig Thompson’s ginseng pulling peer growing up. Only while Thompson was going to high school, Chua had to drop out to help with the family business.
Thompson’s presumably illustrating an interview with Chua, with Chua’s words providing the text for the issue. It’s a fascinating approach to oral history (presuming Chua’s okay with the accompanying visuals, including when feeling like he was sacrificing himself to the ginseng to save his younger siblings, the image being his father ritualistically stabbing him with a ginseng root). Chua’s in the letter pages so it seems like he’s cool with it.
The issue is a brief history of Chua’s family business, while also addressing the Hmong as a new generation of Wisconsin shang farmers. The story wraps around to the ginseng festival, where adult Chua gives Thompson the lowdown on the ginseng market and how it’s changing; specifically how the farmers get crap prices for selling their crop wholesale and it’s no longer worth it for the Hmong farmers—the latest immigrants to Wisconsin to farm the shang. It’s a very aspirational American tale, especially when Thompson gets back into Chua’s father’s story (he fought for the Americans in the Vietnam War).
The finale’s quietly devastating, even after we’ve had some previous devastating when the comic gets into Chua’s unrealized dreams. It’s a very heavy issue, because nothing in Chua’s tale improves throughout. Other than his father realizing sometimes it is actually too cold to work. But Thompson keeps it all nimble enough to pivot from emotion to emotion as Chua tells the story. Once we get to meet him in the present, amiable even as he foreshadows doom… it’s beautifully done.
Ginseng Roots continues to astound. I can’t wait to read this issue and the previous one back-to-back someday. The way Thompson integrates the Hmong cultural visuals is awesome too. Roots is such good work.