The Happiest Refugee

by

Anh Do

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The author and narrator of The Happiest Refugee, a memoir of his life, in which he recounts the story of his family’s treacherous escape from their native country of Vietnam to Australia shortly after the end of the Vietnam War. Anh faces many obstacles as a boy and then an adolescent in Sydney, the city where the family settles. Most notably, he must struggle with poverty after he, his mother, his brother Khoa and his sister Tram are abandoned by his father. And yet, Anh proves to be creative, resilient, clever and hardworking. Throughout his adolescence, he comes up with novel ways of making money—by breeding and selling fish, for instance—and manages to do well in school in spite of not being able to afford basic necessities such as books. He also feels a deep sense of responsibility towards his younger siblings and his mother, whom he helps support. Although estranged from his father for much of his childhood, Anh inherits from him a sense of ambition and courage that lead him to success as a comedian and, eventually, a television celebrity. His multiple talents include comedy, acting, writing, and art. A devoted family man, he takes great pleasure in his wife, Suzie, and the three sons—Xavier, Luc and Leon—they have together.

Anh Do Quotes in The Happiest Refugee

The The Happiest Refugee quotes below are all either spoken by Anh Do or refer to Anh Do. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Allen & Unwin edition of The Happiest Refugee published in 2010.
Chapter 1 Quotes

One sunny afternoon my father walked into the remote re-education camp dressed as a high-ranking communist officer. He marched right through the front door of the commanding officer’s room.

“These two men need to come with me,” he demanded. The commanding officer was bewildered. He was afraid to disobey such a high-ranking official so he did not resist. My father then walked my uncles out of the camp, right through the front gate.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Uncle Thanh , Uncle Huy
Related Symbols: The Re-education Camps
Page Number: 8
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

My extended family pooled all their money, called in favours with friends and relatives and sold everything they had—every possession—just to buy a boat. Getting your hands on a boat was an extremely risky business. They were only available on the black market and anyone caught trying to buy one could be jailed or killed.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Back on our boat one of the pirates grabbed hold of the smallest child. He lifted up the baby and ripped open the child’s nappy. A tiny slice of gold fell out. The pirate picked up the metal and wantonly dangled the baby over the side of the boat, threatening to throw the infant in. My father screamed at the top of his lungs, “We must save the child! We will fight to the death to SAVE THE CHILD!”

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Khoa, Pirates
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:

As their boat veered away, one of the pirates did something strange. He was a young kid according to my uncles, no more than eighteen years old, and had been less aggressive throughout the whole encounter. Suddenly and for no apparent reason he threw us a gallon of water.

That water saved our lives.

You can’t drink jewelry or eat gold teeth caps, but that water meant everything because it bought us an extra day. That second pirate attack saved our lives.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Pirates
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

“What a great country!”

Almost every day we discovered something else that made Mum and Dad shake their heads at how lucky we’d been. If you got sick, you could go to the doctor for free. If you couldn’t get a job straight away, the government gave you some money to help you get by.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 21
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad picked me up from school and, after I told him I didn’t win, there was no change in his demeanour, he was just as exuberant. Maybe he knew it was always going to be a long shot. I’ll never know, but he called up everyone to celebrate anyway […] my father treated that loss as if it were a win, and it was a lesson that stayed with me for a long time. If the worst happens, if you lose and fail, but you still celebrate coming second because you’ve given it a red hot go. There is no need to fear failure.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 48
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 4 Quotes

I also loved it when Dad taught me things. I felt so privileged to be learning the secrets only a chosen few would ever know.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 57
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 5 Quotes

The school had two mottos. First: “Men for Others”—done deal as far as Mum was concerned. Here was a school that was going to teach her boys to look after others and, if she hadn’t drummed it into us enough at home, we’d get another dose at school. The other motto was: “Born for Greater Things.” Boom! Dad’s happy.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Khoa, Uncle Huy
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 6 Quotes

Uncle Three passed out and woke up on a beach in Malaysia. After searching desperately for other survivors he found Uncle Nine alive. Eventually they found the dead bodies of uncles Five and Seven.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Uncle Three , Uncle Five , Uncle Seven , Uncle Nine , Pirates
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 70
Explanation and Analysis:

If he lays a finger on Mum, I will kill him, I said to myself. I took the largest kitchen knife I could find and stuck it under my bed. I was thirteen and at least as heavy as my dad, if not as tall. I figured I might stand a chance if I had a weapon.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 72
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 7 Quotes

Lucky for me I had my good mate Phil Keenan. Phil was the only kid in school who knew I didn’t have all the books.

“What classes have you got today?” he would ask. When it was English, for example, he would lend me his books for my period and I would return them to him in time for his class. I always had to be thinking about how to plan the day, when to meet up with him, how to make sure the other boys didn’t catch on. This concern totally overtook my life; it was all-encompassing and supremely annoying.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Tam / Anh’s Father, Phil Keenan
Page Number: 82-83
Explanation and Analysis:

I was feeling pretty dejected after my first attempt at being an employee but I still wanted to somehow make money and help out Mum. The solution came in the form of a large male Siamese fighting fish.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother
Page Number: 95-96
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

I turned to sneak another look. She was chatting to a girl, and then she turned in my direction again and smiled. I don’t really believe in love at first sight, but if it does exist then I had just been made a victim. I was smitten.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Suzie
Page Number: 111
Explanation and Analysis:

Law was perfect for some but not for me, I guess, so I enrolled in a visual arts course at Meadowbank TAFE. And I loved it.

People often asked me why I studied law and art at the same time “Why not?” was my answer. If there was a rule saying you couldn’t study full time at TAFE and uni simultaneously, I didn’t know about it. I’ve always found that if you apply yourself at the right time with the right intensity, you can accomplish just about anything. So many times in my life I think my naivety about what you supposedly could and couldn't do helped me make big leaps that others might think were over the top.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker)
Page Number: 113
Explanation and Analysis:

[…]I was eating my breakfast when Mum came running in the back door.

“What’s happened to the sewing machines?”

“What are you talking about?”

“The machines, they’re gone!”

I ran out the back and sure enough, our sewing machines had been stolen during the night.

I was angry, but Mum was absolutely shattered. She had saved up for years, and still owed money on those machines. The next month was desperately hard. My mum is an incredibly positive person but when those bastards took away the machines, they took away the opportunity for her to finally give her kids a better life. She tried to hide her pain but we could see it.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother
Page Number: 122
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

[Dave] gave me a range […] for an average headline comic, the salary was between fifty and hundred thousand. A light went on in my brain: That’s more than Andersen Consulting was asking me to do for a sixty-hour week. That’s it, I thought. I’m going to switch.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Dave Grant
Page Number: 138
Explanation and Analysis:

It’s incredibly difficult to describe the feelings that go on inside you when you’re on your way to see a father you once adored, but for eight long years have been fantasising about killing. You play out the whole thing over and over again with different scenarios: a joyful reunion full of happy tears; an angry reunion where you knock him out.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:

I realised that, when he wasn’t drunk, this guy was indeed the most wonderful dad in the world. Somehow, during the past eight years I had managed to block out all the good memories and focused solely on what he’d done wrong. I realised I still very much loved this laughing, beautiful, terribly flawed man.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Suzie
Page Number: 152
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

[…] I did a number of jokes about bull terriers and Datsuns and housing commission estates, and slowly I was getting a few chuckles. Then I moved on to footy jokes, farming jokes and kiwi jokes. Slowly, slowly, I won them over. The old guys finally realised that if they closed their eyes, this Vietnamese kid was actually just an Aussie comedian up there talking about his working-class childhood.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker)
Page Number: 182
Explanation and Analysis:

Dad volunteered to go, but Uncle One insisted that Dad should stay and wait, and that he’d go. So Dad and Uncle One split up the boat money between the two of them, and Uncle One went with the men, while Dad waited. An hour later . . . no Uncle One. An hour and a half later . . . no Uncle One.

“I had an ill feeling in my stomach, Anh, like something was wrong.” Dad looked up to the ceiling, and his face turned a deep red. “I felt an urge to go down the track, to see what had happened . . . in fact, as soon as Uncle One left with them, I felt an urge to track behind them.”

I listened stunned.

“I didn’t follow. I just waited.”

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Tam / Anh’s Father, Uncle One
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 186
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

There were a bunch of speeches and then the prime minister stepped up to the microphone.

“The 2005 Young Australian of the Year is . . . Khoa Do!”

Jesus Christ! Khoa’s done it. My brother just won Young Australian of the Year.

Khoa, the baby dangled over the side of the boat by the pirates, the toddler that Mum dressed in little girls’ dresses, the fat kid who thought the homeless woman was going to eat him… had just won Young Australian of the Year.

Mum was bawling tears of happiness.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Khoa
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

We handed them the big cheque and Daniel gave me a hug, his tears wetting my ear and my neck.

“Thank you, Anh. We’ve got the money to look after Sarah now . . . my wife’s going to be okay now . . . thank you.”

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 209
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 12 Quotes

I look across the water and am mesmerised by the beauty of this magnificent setting. My parents set off on a boat trip many years ago to provide their children and grandchildren a better life. And here we are, thanks to them, enjoying this perfect day. In that moment I know I am happy. I look up to the blue sky and give thanks.

Related Characters: Anh Do (speaker), Anh’s Mother, Suzie, Xavier, Luc, Leon
Related Symbols: The Journey
Page Number: 229
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Happiest Refugee PDF

Anh Do Character Timeline in The Happiest Refugee

The timeline below shows where the character Anh Do appears in The Happiest Refugee. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
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Anh is on a highway, driving at 130 km per hour. He is crying as he... (full context)
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Anh arrives at the house, which is in a poor, dilapidated neighborhood, and knocks. A young... (full context)
Chapter 1
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...on the train. Six months later, they are married, and less than a year later, Anh—their son—is born. (full context)
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Anh’s mother had seven brothers and sisters. Her two eldest brothers, who served as paratroopers alongside... (full context)
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Anh’s father grew up in extreme poverty with his large family. In spite of her poverty,... (full context)
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After his marriage to Anh’s mother, Anh’s father Tam rescues his brothers-in-law Thanh and Huy from the communist re-education camp... (full context)
Chapter 2
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In Saigon, Anh’s extended family pools money together to buy a boat—nine meters long by two and a... (full context)
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In small groups, Anh’s family and family friends, numbering forty people in total, leave in motorized canoes to the... (full context)
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...boats. Indeed, as they approach the border, they find themselves pursued by a patrol boat. Anh’s father, who is in charge of navigating the Motherfish, cracks both boat’s engines, but the... (full context)
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...on board—are extremely cramped and oppressive. Eventually, the weather settles, and the sea becomes calm. Anh’s mother rushes up to the deck and is relieved to find that not only are... (full context)
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...Aunty Huong to the pirate boat—where she will clearly be raped. Another pirate picks up Anh’s baby brother Khoa and dangles him over the edge of the boat. When the baby’s... (full context)
Chapter 3
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In 1982, Anh begins school at St. Bridget’s Primary—a Catholic school. His parents are so grateful to the... (full context)
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The family moves to a two-bedroom house in the Earlwood neighborhood of Sydney. There, Anh’s mother buys a sewing machine, with which she hopes to earn an income as she... (full context)
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Uncle Two and his family live with Anh and his family for two years, but then disagreements erupt between Anh’s mother and father... (full context)
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In primary school, Anh has his first public speaking engagement. He must give a speech to compete to become... (full context)
Chapter 4
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In Year 5 in school, Anh has his first “relationship” with Karen, a Vietnamese girl. He impresses her with his rope... (full context)
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Anh’s father goes to Melbourne on a work trip. Anh and Khoa accompany Uncle Six on... (full context)
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Anh’s father Tam and his brothers Two, Three, and Nine buy a waterfront farm. Tam wants... (full context)
Chapter 5
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Anh’s grandmother—Tam’s mother—is a big part of Anh’s childhood. Not only is she a passionate gardener,... (full context)
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When the time comes for Anh to go to high school, his mother and father, who value education highly, begin looking... (full context)
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The school is expensive, though, and the family is unsure if they can afford it. Anh and his brother Khoa sit for a scholarship exam, and manage to win partial scholarships.... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Anh’s father Tam is incredibly optimistic. Two of his favorite sayings are “You can do anything,”... (full context)
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One night, not long after the family has lost all their money, Anh wakes up to find his father engaged in a physical fight with Uncle Three. Soon... (full context)
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Uncle Three had left Vietnam with UnclesFive, Seven, and Nine six months before Anh and his family made their voyage of escape. On the journey, Anh’s uncles had also... (full context)
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Anh’s father Tam has become an alcoholic. He no longer helps Anh’s mother with the garment... (full context)
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Six months later, Anh’s mother tells the children that Tam is back from Vietnam, but she refuses to have... (full context)
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One day, Tam indeed shows up at the house. Anh’s mother is terrified. Anh gets his knife and goes to the door. There, he finds... (full context)
Chapter 7
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At their St. Aloysius school, Anh and his brother Khoa struggle to keep up with their wealthier schoolmates. They are terribly... (full context)
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In Year 8, half of Anh’s class is picked to participate in drama. Anh wants to be picked because drama is... (full context)
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At school, Anh also can’t afford his textbooks—which cost $1,000 per semester. Instead, he relies on his friend... (full context)
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Although they are very broke, Anh’s mother continues inviting poorer relatives to stay with them. Once, she invites a destitute distant... (full context)
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Anh, who is in the school’s basketball team, is determined to score thirty points in a... (full context)
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One day, coming back from school on the train, Anh is almost mugged by three boys, who make him show them his wallet. Thankfully, he... (full context)
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To help his mother, Anh gets a job delivering pamphlets around the neighborhood. But he quickly realizes that the massive... (full context)
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However, Anh doesn’t give up on making money. With his brother Khoa, he begins breeding fish, which... (full context)
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In his final year of high school, Anh is impressed by an army recruiter who promises $15,000 a year for joining up. He... (full context)
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In Year 12, Anh has to pick a university course to follow. Given his experience with poverty, he is... (full context)
Chapter 8
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On the first day of law school, Anh locks eyes with a beautiful blonde girl, and he is immediately smitten. Her name is... (full context)
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Anh discovers that he doesn’t like law very much, and enrolls simultaneously in art school, often... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...$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. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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Anh is heartbroken to see his mother suffering so much over the theft of the sewing... (full context)
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Anh, who has a new girlfriend called Rachel, decides to go into business with her. She... (full context)
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As an art student, Anh embraces the alternative lifestyle. He hangs out with hippies and grows his hair long. He... (full context)
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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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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Anh continues seeing Suzie in his law classes. He is happy when she comes to his... (full context)
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One evening, Anh accompanies Steve to the Harold Park Hotel, a famous comedy club. With Steve’s encouragement, Anh... (full context)
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In his fourth year of law school, Anh begins interviewing for top law firms, but at a three-day retreat interview for the law... (full context)
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At a comedy event, Anh learns from his friend Dave, a comedian, that he works only four hours a week.... (full context)
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Anh works extremely hard for a year taking any performances that come his way. In 1999,... (full context)
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Anh calls up Suzie one day and discovers that she has recently broken up with a... (full context)
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As a result of his comedy work, Anh begins getting small television parts, and a year and half into his comedy career, he... (full context)
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Three months into his relationship with Suzie, Anh realizes that he’s very happy, and remembers his father’s advice that if he finds the... (full context)
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At his father’s house in Melbourne, Anh sits for an hour talking to him. It has been nine years since he last... (full context)
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Nonetheless, Anh calls his father again. This time, on the phone, he notices that his father’s speech... (full context)
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Anh and Suzie go shopping for an engagement ring. The couple decides to have a big... (full context)
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...couple spend more time with their families after their engagement, cultural differences begin to emerge. Anh’s family likes to subject Suzie to all kinds of elaborate and strange Vietnamese dishes, which... (full context)
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Anh and Suzie celebrate their wedding day in the school chapel of St. Aloysius, his old... (full context)
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Anh and Suzie move into a flat in north Sydney. Suzie works as a lawyer while... (full context)
Chapter 10
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Anh travels around Australia to for his comedy gigs. He is accompanied by Suzie, who has... (full context)
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Anh’s most difficult comedy performance, however, involves performing in front of 200 Australian war veterans—among them... (full context)
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Anh begins getting more TV work, including appearances on bigger shows shot in Melbourne. After one... (full context)
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...Uncle One. Uncle One had been the gentlest and kindest of the brothers, Tam tells Anh. He and Tam had gone together to purchase the boat on which the family was... (full context)
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On this evening, Tam also tells Anh that, in spite of his repute for courage and daredevilry, he has always been terrified... (full context)
Chapter 11
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Anh auditions for a children’s show called “Don’t Blame Me.” His love of animals, which the... (full context)
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Anh and his brother Khoa also undertake charity work. The two brothers volunteer with at-risk kids,... (full context)
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Impressed by Khoa’s devotion and work with the at-risk children, Anh nominates him for the Young Australian of the Year Award. To everyone’s delight—most especially Anh’s... (full context)
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After Anh’s show “Don’t Blame Me” ends, he finds it difficult getting parts as an Asian actor.... (full context)
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“Footy Legends” takes Anh’s career to a whole new level. Suddenly, he gets calls to appear on big TV... (full context)
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During his participation in “Dancing with the Stars,” Anh visits a children’s hospital, which will be partly supported by proceeds from the show. The... (full context)
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Anh’s family are ecstatic over Anh’s newly-found celebrity on “Dancing with the Stars.” Both his father... (full context)
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Strangers begin recognizing Anh in the street. One day, he is stopped by Uncle Six—the uncle who had lived... (full context)
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While undertaking research for his memoir, however, Anh delves deeper into Uncle Six’s story. He discovers from his grandmother that Uncle Six was... (full context)
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On the show “Celebrity Deal or No Deal,” Anh wins $200,000 dollars, which goes to a man looking after his sick wife and two... (full context)
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Anh continues to pick up television work: he is offered to do a travelogue on the... (full context)
Chapter 12
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The first time Anh travels back to Vietnam is in 1998. After saving up, he goes there on vacation... (full context)
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Once her children have grown up and are secure, Anh’s mother stops working, and happily devotes herself to learning English and to looking after her... (full context)
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While Anh’s family has fared quite well, he realizes that not all members of the extended family... (full context)
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
When Tam falls quite ill again with the brain tumor, Anh finally convinces his siblings Khoa and Tram to meet him. Anh feels that the reconciliation... (full context)
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Six months later, Anh receives wonderful news: his father is healthy. The doctors have reassured him that his brain... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh finally confesses to his mother that he is in contact with his father. She tells... (full context)
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Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh takes a trip to a Bobbin National Park with his children Xavier, Luc, and Leon,... (full context)