Review: The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

Title: The Happiest Refugee

Author: Anh Do

Published: Allen & Unwin September 2010

Synopsis: Anh Do nearly didn’t make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing — not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days — could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about. Life in Australia was hard, an endless succession of back-breaking work, crowded rooms, ruthless landlords and make-do everything. But there was a loving extended family, and always friends and play and something to laugh about for Anh, his brother Khoa and their sister Tram. Things got harder when their father left home when Anh was thirteen — they felt his loss very deeply and their mother struggled to support the family on her own. His mother’s sacrifice was an inspiration to Anh and he worked hard during his teenage years to help her make ends meet, also managing to graduate high school and then university.  Another inspiration was the comedian Anh met when he was about to sign on for a 60-hour a week corporate job. Anh asked how many hours he worked. ‘Four,’ the answer came back, and that was it. He was going to be a comedian! The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of our favourite personalities. Tragedy, humour, heartache and unswerving determination — a big life with big dreams. Anh’s story will move and amuse all who read it.

Status: Read from June 30 to July 01, 2012
My Thoughts:

“There are only two times. Now and too late.”

With humour, warmth and spirit, Anh Do shares his journey from a refugee boat fleeing Vietnam to a successful and well known comedian in Australia. The Happiest Refugee won multiple Australian book awards in 2011 and captured the heart of the nation.

When Anh was a small child, his family gambled everything in their desire to escape the crippling poverty in Vietnam on a barely seaworthy boat crowded with 40 others. Twice attacked by pirates and on the verge of starvation and dehydration, he and his family were rescued from the middle of the ocean, and via Malaysia, were granted refugee status in Australia. Ahn’s family were delighted with their new country, grateful for its kindness and undreamed of opportunities. In a series of anecdotes that are both funny and sad, Anh shares his family’s triumphs and failures as they make Australia their home. It is impossible not to admire their willingness to work hard, their love for family and respect for education. Today, the issue of ‘boat people’ is a political hot potato in Australia, Anh’s story puts a face on those nameless desperate souls who risk everything to cross the vast ocean.
I was surprised to discover the Anh qualified as a lawyer before taking a chance on a career in comedy, though it is startlingly common amongst male comedians in this country (i.e. Charlie Pickering, Shaun Micallef. Tony Wilson, Steve Vizard). This memoir supports Anh’s image as a decent, down to earth man who adores his family and believes in being his best, for himself and others.

The Happiest Refuge is an extraordinary story of hope, resilience and triumph in an ordinary man’s life. I was thoroughly entertained, fought back a tear or two and sighed happily as I turned the final page, though Anh has a lot of life yet to live.

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7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Psych Babbler
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 09:50:34

    This has been on my list of books to read…I like him as a comedian and would love to read about his life.



  2. Tien
    Jul 05, 2012 @ 14:09:47

    Awww, I’ve been meaning to read this one ever since it came out! We were even going to read it for our F2F bookclub but the reserves on the library copy was just that long so we didn’t as we didn’t want to force people to spend :p

    He’s such a great comedian – and yeah, can’t picture him as a lawyer at all! LOL



    • shelleyrae @ Book'd Out
      Jul 05, 2012 @ 14:28:58

      I had it on reserve for over 3 months before my name came up Tien LOL



      • Tien
        Jul 05, 2012 @ 21:28:01

        oh gosh, I probably wouldn’t get it til sometime next year!

        Did you feel like you had to read it quick so someone else could have it right after you OR did you take your time cuz it took a long time to get to you? LOL



  3. Candace
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 11:27:55

    Hi, I LOVE your site! I’m a new follower and would love a follow back.




  4. The Australian Bookshelf
    Jul 06, 2012 @ 17:36:10

    Ohh i’ve wanted to read Ahn’s book for some time. It sounds like it was really engaging. He is a very entertaining comedian and i too was surprised to read in your review that he trained as a lawyer! He’d certainly have the jury chuckling that’s for sure!



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