The Happiest Refugee


Anh Do

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The Happiest Refugee Study Guide

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Brief Biography of Anh Do

In 1980, shortly after the end of the Vietnam War, the infant Anh Do and his family secretly fled their native country of Vietnam in search of a better life elsewhere. They barely survived the perilous boat journey out of the country, during which they faced storms, pirates, and Vietnamese patrol boats. Eventually rescued by German sailors, they settled in Australia. There, Anh Do, in spite of the poverty into which his family was plunged after they were abandoned by his father, found success and prosperity first as a comedian, and then as a television celebrity, actor, and writer. His memoir The Happiest Refugee, published in 2010, became a national bestseller in Australia, winning awards such as Book of the Year and the Indie Book of the Year Award in 2011.
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Historical Context of The Happiest Refugee

  Anh Do’s incredible story of migration was precipitated by the Vietnam War, which led his family to flee their native country of Vietnam in 1980. Beginning in 1954, the war was fought between Communist North Vietnam (which was supported by Communist powers such as China and the Soviet Union) and the non-Communist South, supported by capitalist, anti-Communist powers such as the United States and Australia. During the 1960s, the United States became increasingly entangled in the war, sending hundreds of thousands of troops to support the anti-Communist South Vietnamese forces. However, the war was eventually won by the North Vietnamese, who captured Saigon in 1975. Several members of Anh Do’s family had fought alongside American and Australian troops in the war. This meant that, in the aftermath of the war, they were subject to punishment by the Communist regime that came to power. Indeed, two of Anh’s uncles from his mother’s side ended up in Communist “re-education” camps, where many opponents of the Communists were condemned. The poverty and devastation in which the country was gripped in the aftermath of the war, as well as the political repression of the Communist regime, were all reasons that led many Vietnamese—including Anh’s family—to flee the country after the end of the war. These refugees came to be known as “boat people,” as many of them made their escape by boat or ship. Given the perils involved in their sea escape, many “boat people” did not survive the passage.

Other Books Related to The Happiest Refugee

Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee belongs to the autobiographical literature that emerged in the 2000s documenting the migrant experience of Vietnamese “boat people” who had fled Vietnam in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Anh Do’s migration story, focused on Australia, finds echoes in the memoirs of “boat people” who ended up both in Australia and elsewhere in the world. In Boat People: Personal Stories from the Vietnamese Exodus 1975-1996 (2nd Ed. 2015), for instance, Carina Hoàng not only recounts her family’s own migration from Vietnam via Indonesia and the United States to Australia, but also collects the stories of other “boat people” who passed through Indonesian refugee camps on their way to new homes. Where the Wind Leads: A Refugee Family’s Story of Loss, Rescue, and Redemption by Vinh Chung (2015) also shares parallels with Do’s book, particularly in its emphasis on the perilous sea journey that Chung’s family undertook in 1979 to escape the repressive communist government that came to power at the end of the war. Chung and his family ended up in America, and the book recounts their establishment of a new life there. Taken as a whole, this body of autobiographical and biographical literature depicts the hardships and perils that Vietnamese “boat people” faced as they fled their native land, hoping to make better lives for themselves and their families elsewhere.
Key Facts about The Happiest Refugee
  • Full Title: The Happiest Refugee
  • When Written: 2010
  • Where Written: Australia
  • When Published: 2010
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Memoir
  • Setting: Saigon (Vietnam), Sydney (Australia), and Melbourne (Australia)
  • Climax: Anh’s baby brother Khoa is dangled over the edge of a boat by pirates
  • Antagonist: The Vietnamese government, pirates, poverty
  • Point of View: First person

Extra Credit for The Happiest Refugee

A movie on the way. Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee is set to be made into a film backed by Australian film star Russell Crowe.

A man of many talents. On top of his multiple talents for comedy, acting, and writing, Anh Do has recently also established himself as a distinguished painter.