Reading This Week – The Happiest Refugee – Anh Do

In Australia there is a long-running debate on what to do about asylum seekers. In particular, the people who pay money to people smugglers to take to the open sea in a bid to seek refuge in Australia. It’s a political hot-potato, with the issue whipped into a frenzy by a variety of shock-jocks and media commentators. It’s a complex and emotive situation on both sides of the argument.

This book removes the political spin, the inflammatory rhetoric and personalises the issue in a way that nobody with a heart could ignore.

Comedian Anh Do captures the story of his life in this funny, uplifting and deeply moving memoir. In doing so he makes a wonderful tribute to his parents and all the other refugees who risked so much to give their children a better life in Australia.

As a two-year-old Anh and his family came close to dying on the perilous ocean voyage to escape Vietnam. They ward off pirates, dehydration, starvation and storms finally making it to Malysia then Australia.

The following years are no picnic. The courageous father who donned a uniform and boldly walked into a communist re-education camp to get his brother-in-laws out, then captained a tiny boat across the wild seas to transport 39 people to their new life, struggles with the demons of surviving war and tragedy and leaves the family when Anh is thirteen.

The bloody legend of a mother, sews night and day to feed, house, and educate three kids in private school.

The three children work hard, do well and give back to their country.

Anh’s humour has made him a very successful comedian it weaves itself into every page of the book, you laugh out loud often. Then he twists your heart when he shares the  vulnerability of an outsider trying to fit in when there is no money, life keeps dealing blow after blow and you are not sure how it is all going to work out.

Anh was advised not to put the word refugee in the title of the book – “because Aussie’s won’t buy it” – Anh’s response “I have faith in Aussies”. I’m glad we didn’t let him down, the book has sold 150,000 copies and won a slew of awards.

Russell Crowe has brought the film rights and there has been a children’s picture book version released.

I hope The Happiest Refugee makes it to school reading lists because every teenager in Australia should read this book to gain an insight into what it is to be a refugee.


7 thoughts on “Reading This Week – The Happiest Refugee – Anh Do

  1. we have the same issue here. interesting. sounds very moving, and our family came from ireland a few generations ago. you are right that it’s a complex topic and emotional. joy to you!

  2. Isn’t it a wonderful book? I’ve just finished reading it this week and loved it. Amazing how you can laugh and cry on the same page. I hope he continues to write!

  3. I am going to read that and pass it on to my children. I think Anh Do is quietly hilarious. I loved your description ‘bloody legend of a mother’ – oh how I love our Aussie English!!! On the basis of your review and what I know the book to be about, I agree that book should be on every reading list in every school (highschool and the picture book version for primary) and I am happy to advocate for that. Your children have had Montessori ed? Oh, we do have a lot to talk about! I can’t wait for your post on alternative schooling 🙂

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