The Happiest Refugee

by

Anh Do

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The Happiest Refugee: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the first day of law school, Anh locks eyes with a beautiful blonde girl, and he is immediately smitten. Her name is Suzie. They become fast friends. When he confesses his feelings to her, however, she tells him that she thinks of him as no more than a friend.
Anh’s immediate attraction to Suzie points to the fact that law school opens up more than career opportunities for Anh; it also opens up romantic possibilities, even though Suzie is not immediately interested in him.
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Anh discovers that he doesn’t like law very much, and enrolls simultaneously in art school, often skipping his law classes for art. He feels obliged to continue with law because he knows he can secure a good livelihood for himself and his family through it, but he feels that his true vocation is art. He begins dating girls in art school, but his heart is still with Suzie. Every time he hints at his feelings, however, she rejects him, telling him they can only be friends.
Anh’s decision to enroll in art school on top of law school reveals his boldness and audacity, given that few students would think of enrolling in more than one university course at once. In enrolling in art school, Anh also reveals his instinct for forging his own path forward, rather than being limited to the path made for him. 
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One day, while driving to the local shops near his home, Anh is hit by a bus. The car he is driving is completely destroyed, but he’s fine. His mother, seeing the crash, runs screaming out of the house. Once she reassures herself that he’s fine, she turns to comforting the shaken bus driver. Anh is full of love for her at this moment—as always, she acts out of immense compassion, even for the bus driver who has almost killed her son.
The car crash represents a frightening moment for the family—that Anh is not hurt is almost a miracle. His mother’s distress indicates just how terrifying the crash is. However, her turn to comforting the bus driver, as Anh notes, reveals the immense depth of her empathy and generosity.
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The family receives $4,000 in insurance money for the destroyed car. They are ecstatic—especially as they had paid only $3,500 for the car. They use most of the money to buy a computer, which Anh and his brother Khoa use to type up their school work and essays with.
Although the children are growing up and attending university, they are clearly still struggling with money, as revealed in their ecstasy over the insurance money they receive. They put the money toward a practical consideration, underscoring the importance of education for improving their lives.
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In his second year of law school, Anh is juggling a lot. On top of law classes, he has his art classes and is helping his mother with her garment sewing work. He also takes on several odd jobs—including one as a mail sorter—to earn extra cash.
The multiple responsibilities that Anh carries on his shoulders point to just how much pressure he continues to be under as a result of the family’s poverty.
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The whole family works hard to save money. Finally, they have enough—$15,000—to buy three industrial strength sewing machines, which Anh’s mother will use to earn more money. They store the machines in the back garage of their house in Yagoona. But one day, Anh’s mother goes to check on the machines, only to discover that they have been stolen. She is completely devastated.
The theft of the machines that the family had worked so hard to save for represents one of the major setbacks that the family faces as a result of their poverty. This is one of the many moments of ill fortune that mark their struggles with financial hardship.
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Anh is heartbroken to see his mother suffering so much over the theft of the sewing machines, and curses his father for abandoning them and not being there to help them. He wants to make his father pay. He calls up Uncle Eight, and finds out his father is living in Melbourne. He gets his number from Uncle Eight, but doesn’t call for another two years.
Watching his mother suffer reawakens feelings of rage and anger in Anh at his father’s abandonment. Anh acquires his father’s number from Uncle Eight not out of desire for reconciliation, therefore, but out of a desire for revenge, and this indicates just how raw his father’s betrayal still is for Anh.
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Anh, who has a new girlfriend called Rachel, decides to go into business with her. She gives him her savings so that he can start a market stall selling crystals. Competitors, however, soon arrive, and to give himself an edge, Anh begins selling Native American souvenirs. Given his dark looks, his buyers often assume that he’s Native American, and he begins playing along, saying he belongs to the Chippewa tribe. Eventually, however, he and Rachel break up, and Anh returns to her all the profits from the business.
Anh’s entrepreneurial talents are put to good use through the establishment of the market stall business he starts with Rachel’s money. Again, Anh’s ability to find creative ways to make money reflects his ingenuity and originality. The fact that he plays along with his buyers’ belief that he is Native American suggests that he uses their ignorance to his own advantage. 
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As an art student, Anh embraces the alternative lifestyle. He hangs out with hippies and grows his hair long. He is in search of an identity. At a festival, he meets a woman by the name of Amanda, who becomes his girlfriend. To please Amanda, who is vegan, Anh also becomes vegan. When they break up after six months however, Anh immediately returns to eating meat, which he has missed.
Anh is clearly in search of an identity during his law and art school years. His embrace of the alternative lifestyle, and his temporary adoption of veganism thanks to Amanda, reveal a young man who is experimenting with different modes of being as a means of discovering himself.
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As he cycles through various girlfriends, Anh remains good friends with Suzie, whom he often turns to for relationship advice. In the meantime, he continues running the crystal business he had first launched with his ex-girlfriend Rachel.
That Anh’s friendship with Suzie lasts, in spite of the fact that he has romantic feelings for her that she doesn’t reciprocate, suggests that, even just as friends, Anh and Suzie share a strong bond.
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