The Happiest Refugee


Anh Do

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The Happiest Refugee: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

In Year 5 in school, Anh has his first “relationship” with Karen, a Vietnamese girl. He impresses her with his rope skipping skills. But soon he gets tired of holding the rope for her and her friends while they skip during breaks, and the couple breaks up. Anh is distraught, and turns to Uncle Six, who is still living with them at the factory, for comfort. Anh is close to Uncle Six, who is like a second father to him.
Growing up in an extended family household, Anh is fortunate to have more than one “father figure” around him. Uncle Six represents one such figure. That Anh has male role models and figures of support other than his father to turn to when he is distraught again points to how strong his extended family bonds are.
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Anh’s father goes to Melbourne on a work trip. Anh and Khoa accompany Uncle Six on a visit to their father there. After the trip to Melbourne, however, Uncle Six suddenly disappears. He is not heard from again for two decades.
Uncle Six’s sudden disappearance constitutes a blow to the family and to Anh especially, who had been very close to him. This disappearance signals that, as tight as the family relationships are, they are not immune to disruption.
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Anh’s father Tam and his brothers Two, Three, and Nine buy a waterfront farm. Tam wants to launch a duck egg business. Anh, his siblings, and his cousins have a great time on the farm, where they spend their time fishing and exploring the landscape. While on the farm, Tam also teaches the children many useful skills—how to unlock a car door using a hanger, or how to build a cage for budgies. Anh likes to accompany his father to the livestock auctions, where his father always ends up buying strange animals.
The times that Anh and the family spend on the farm are in many ways the happiest that they spend together. Tam, here, also acts as a model father, one who teaches his children many valuable skills, impressing his son and the rest of the children. That Anh looks up to and enjoys his father’s company is reflected by the fact that he likes to follow him to the livestock auctions.
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One day, Tam buys cheap feed for the ducks the family is rearing on the farm. The feed turns out to be bad, and several thousand ducks die. The farm business ends, and the property bubble bursts. The family sells the farm for a loss, and returns to their sewing business.
Tam’s decision to feed the ducks cheap feed reflects his risk-taking tendencies, but this time, the risk doesn’t pay off, and the farm is destroyed. This is an example of Tam’s impulsiveness landing the family in trouble.
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