Review Blog

Apr 10 2011

The happiest refugee, a memoir by Anh Do

cover image

Allen and Unwin, 2011. ISBN 9781742372389.
Recommended. Non Fiction. Under cover of darkness, Anh Do and his family fled the Communist regime in Vietnam, joining many of their extended family on a boat moored further out to sea. After a perilous journey they reached Malaysia, where they said they would settle anywhere. Told they were going to Australia, they collected lots of warm clothes, in readiness for their new home near Switzerland, but getting off the plane at Mascot Airport, soon acquainted them with the realities of Sydney in December.
1970's saw many Vietnamese refugees enter Australia, bringing with them the work ethic so strongly portrayed by Anh and his family. Reading this book, I was struck again and again by their resilience, perseverance and tenacity in having a go. Anh's parents worked in factories, eventually renting a warehouse with many of their family. Here they lived and worked, until buying a farm saw them raising ducks for eggs, a niche market in the burgeoning multicultural Australia. When this failed, the family went back to factory work, mum taking in sewing, having the children sit for scholarship exams to get them into a Catholic school for a sound education.
Few of us can have any idea of the bravery of these people setting out into unknown waters, all their possessions sold, to find a new life. But Anh's story gives the reader a sound background knowledge of one family's story, revealing the lengths to which this particular family went to find a new, safe home.
Throughout the book the reader is regaled with story after story of Anh's life with his family, at school, at university, marriage and his own family, but always, the constant echoes of the past are there. Meeting his father again after many years of estrangement is a big part of his adult life and is told with sincerity and candour. Having heard many interviews and some of his sessions as a stand up comedian, many of the stories are not new to me, but the honesty and self deprecating humour which he uses to tell his tale, give the stories a freshness that has a giant appeal. For students wanting an engaging autobiography to read, or a tale of a refugee, or someone for whom success has not come easily, then this book is inspirational.
Fran Knight

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