Renowned comedian, Anh Do’s award winning autobiography The Happiest Refugee is a heart-warming and touching journey that leads the audience through Do’s experiences from his early days as a child in Vietnam, to his successful career as an influential television personality and well know Australian stand-up comedian. Throughout the text, Do explores many ideas and issues linked to the concept of belonging which become apparent from his reminiscence of his families migration from war-torn Vietnam and the problems they encounter to his efforts to gain extra money to support his family after his father left.
The Happiest Refugee is full of snapshots of memories Do holds close, each photo shows a challenge the family has overcome. It’s an inspirational tale of the power of perseverance, kindness and love. The memoir frequently insists on the importance of family, with the idea a strong presence throughout the text. Besides Do himself, the most significant character in the book is Do’s mother, Hein, from whom he learns plenty of valuable life lessons that Do cherished and continued to follow as he and the book developed on.
One of those lessons consists of Hein’s compassion and willingness to allow a female distant relative take refuge in their own house whilst she found a stable economic income. Financially struggling, Hein found it in her heart to take in this woman and her small child, provide them with a roof over their heads and nutritious food to eat. Even though they were underprivileged, by taking in these newcomers it made the family feel extremely fortunate “I learnt life experiences from a whole range of people, and it was an incredibly rich and varied form of wisdom that these passers-by gifted us with.
His father features less, absent from Do’s life for his teenage years. However he is a valuable part of Do’s life as a child teaching him many life lessons that helped Do mature and evolve through adulthood. All of the major characters and relatives featured in Do’s memoir stand for their own personal positive values, teaching him valuable lessons and continuously impacting on his life. All the way through the text, countless reminders of the power and strength his family had to have to gamble everything they owned to fulfil their dream of escape crippling poverty in Vietnam and obtain refuge in Australia are revealed.
This leads into another main idea and issue presented in the memoir, gratitude. Twice attacked by pirates and on the verge of starvation and dehydration, Do and his 40+ family were rescued from the middle of the ocean, and were finally granted refugee status in Australia. Do’s family were delighted with their new country, grateful for its kindness and undreamed of opportunities. In a sequence of anecdotes that are both funny and sad, Do shares his family’s triumphs and failures as they make Australia their home.
It is impossible not to admire his family’s ‘can do’ attitude, their willingness to work hard even with dim chance of success, their love for family and respect for education and desire to learn. One of the main things that particularly stands out about his attitude towards life is how unconditionally grateful he is to have experienced everything, even the bad. Today, the issue of ‘boat people’ is a political vocal point in Australia; Do’s story puts a face on those nameless distressed souls who risk everything to cross the vast ocean in hope of achieving the likes of the Do family.
My personal opinion of ‘boat people’ has changed drastically after reading Do’s memoir. Living in a country where freedom is a right, we take for granted the small things like the decision the move freely if we feel it necessary. These people, ‘boat people’, don’t have a lot of choice, continue to live in a war-torn country or gamble everything for the slightest chance of succeeding in gaining refugee and starting fresh in a new place. I now have a better understanding of why they choose to flee in search of a new beginning.
Our bodies express certain obvious signs of identity and individuality such as hair, skin colour, gestures, posture and physical scarring. Throughout the text, Do searches for his true identity and although he is visibly foreign his actions and dialectal portray a true blue Australian. Actions such as his sportsmanship and overall love for sport as well his constant use of Australian slang through the memoir, “I’ve had to go into the battle as the underdog”, are demonstrations of Do’s true Australian nature.
Regularly we adapt and change as we engage and intermingle between different communities in which we belong to or hope to be accepted by. This is evident throughout the text, with Do changing multiple times to fit in with a certain group or person. One example would be where Do turned vegan to be accepted by his then girlfriend Amanda. This vegan life-style impacted drastically on Do’s life; dropping roughly 12kg meant his rugby-league career was taking a battering. His small petite figure took hammerings and eventually was taking its toll on the then captain whom was supposed to be setting an example.
After six months Do realised the path he had taken was not for him, broke up with Amanda and headed straight for an animal product enriched meal. Identity is something that people are not born with, but something that we create, from choices we make to the influence of our surroundings. Every choice Do made has affected his identity, for better or for worse. This memoir is an extraordinary story of hope, resilience and triumph in one ordinary man’s life that enriches us in a sense of belonging as we continue reading on through his life events.
I personally, have changed my view on many issues thanks to Do’s memoir. It opened my eyes to what it takes to be a refugee, the heartache and misfortune linked to refugee status are one I have never fully understood, but now have a much better grip on the strength it must take, physically and emotionally. Also how important family is, often I take for granted my families willingness to support me in any aspect of life I wish to further or path I’d like to take but Do’s memoir has succeeded in giving me a new perspective.
The Happiest Refugee supports Do’s image as a decent, down to earth man who adores his family and believes in being his best, for himself and others but also allows a new perspective on those lives we once put to shame for being ‘boat people’. He uses narrative techniques and conventions to engage and encourage the readers to respond in particular ways. Emotions such as sympathy, warmth, admiration and suspense are encouraged by the introduction of certain characters and anecdotes.