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.

Reading This Week – There Should Be More Dancing – Rosalie Ham

Margery Blandon, an uptight 79-year-old, is on the 43rd floor of the Tropic Hotel debating whether to jump over the edge. How she came to get there is the basis of There Should Be More Dancing by Rosalie Ham.

Ham, the author of The Dressmaker, portrays a darkly humorous look at the process of aging, the mistakes of life and the vagaries of family.

Margery has lived in the one street for the past 60 years. Arriving as an eighteen year old pregnant bride, life was lived around Margery while she cross-stitched, judged others and engaged in long conversations with her dead twin sister.

Ham does an excellent job of conveying the frustrations of aging. The loss of independence, the body packing it in on you, the inability to control your future. There is also a sense of sadness as you remain stationary while the street you live in changes around you, people die, move away, new families arrive, cute toddlers become teenage hoodlums, renovations begin on the rundown houses, the local drug dealer moves in next door.

Margery engenders both sympathy and rage as we watch her physical decline while refusing to recognise what’s happening around her both now and in the past.

The loss of dreams and hope is evident in both Margery and her family, eldest son Walter a champion boxer injured in a bout, Morris the second son on permanent “holiday” in Thailand, and daughter Judith who Margery suspects may be trying to kill her.

In the end Margery is forced to acknowledge the secrets of the street she has lived in for all these years, the secrets her own family has kept from her. At the Tropic Hotel as she reflects on the life she has led Margery must confront the truth, not just about what has happened but her part in it all.

Ham creates characters who, while behaving badly, still engender a degree of sympathy as each of them carries with them the sense of loss of dreams unfulfiled. The novel certainly confronted the notion of aging in our society and makes you think about how you would consider your own life lived. Was it one of reward, enjoyment and engagment? Or are there regrets? Should there have been more dancing?

The List of Books to Read

Pile of books to be read

Over in Twitter world Booktopia asked followers to take a picture of the books in their To Be Read pile. I gathered mine together, a motley collection of library books (must remember to return them), bargain basket buys (OK everyone else read them ages OK but I paid $5 instead of $32 to get ’em), a few that have been on my shelf for ages but I haven’t actually got around to reading  and some newbies that I want to read and blog about.

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Reading This Week – Worse Things Happen At Sea – William McInnes, Sarah Watt

Anyone who has survived a long-term relationship (and I’m talking decades, not just a year a two) knows it is an adventure in joy, despair and resilience combined with equal parts humour and anger.

This memoir of family life by Aussie Actor/Writer, William McInnes, and his Film Director/Animator wife, Sarah Watt, captures the nuances of daily life endured and enjoyed over 20 years together. Continue reading