Book review: The Happiest Refugee
My holiday reading has included Aussie comedian Anh Do's autobiography The Happiest Refugee and it was a ripper. Born in Vietnam, Do arrived in Australia at the age of about four, travelling via a terrible leaky boat from Vietnam to Malaysia and undergoing two attacks by pirates on the way.
When the family was accepted for settlement in Australia, his father went out and bought blankets and jumpers. "It's very cold where we're going," he said. "It's right next to Germany.
Do is honest about his tumultuous relationship with his father (complicated, gregarious and charismatic) and very loyal and kind to his mother (hard working, generous and loving). He tells his story with humour and pathos. It's a wonderful 'rags to riches' and 'unhappy family to happy ending' tale.
Two things that stood out to me were the principles his parents seemed to live by. His father said that there were "two times in the world. Right Now, and Too Late." Anh used this to make several life changing decisions, such as leaving a boring legal job for stand up comedy.
The other key influence in his life was the fact that his father thought he could do anything, but at the same time his mother said, genuinely, "It doesn't matter if you don't." It's a nice answer to the parenting pressure described in Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, where the mother believed her children could do anything, but if they didn't, it was a mega-big disaster of a deal.
The Happiest Refugee might be the best advertisement I've seen yet for allowing boat people into Australia. Anh Do is a popular and well-loved comedian, his little brother, Khoa Do became Young Australian Of the Year several years ago for his charity work and the whole family has worked hard to give back to the country that gave them so much.
As an editor, I had a few quibbles with some phrasing and commas, but overall it was a great story and well told.