The Happiest Refugee

by

Anh Do

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Anh’s Mother Character Analysis

Mother to Anh, Khoa, and Tram, and former wife of Anh’s father Tam. She escaped Vietnam shortly after the end of the Vietnam war with her then-infant sons Anh and Khoa, and her husband Tam. Her priority is her children’s welfare. On the dangerous journey from Vietnam, she protects and comforts her children through the hardships of the voyage. In Australia, she works tirelessly sewing garments to support her three children, and is the one who provides for and looks after them after her husband abandons the family. While she encourages her children to succeed, she never puts pressure on them, and allows them to follow their own path—as when she supports Anh when he decides to pursue a career in comedy instead of law. She is extremely generous and full of compassion, always coming to the aid of those less fortunate than herself, and instills in her children the values of generosity and compassion.

Anh’s Mother Quotes in The Happiest Refugee

The The Happiest Refugee quotes below are all either spoken by Anh’s Mother or refer to Anh’s Mother. 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 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:
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

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 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 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:
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:
Get the entire The Happiest Refugee LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Happiest Refugee PDF

Anh’s Mother Character Timeline in The Happiest Refugee

The timeline below shows where the character Anh’s Mother appears in The Happiest Refugee. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Prologue
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...fantasies of doing violence to his father, in revenge for him abandoning his family—especially Anh’s mother, who was left alone to look after three children. (full context)
Chapter 1
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Anh’s mother had seven brothers and sisters. Her two eldest brothers, who served as paratroopers alongside Australian... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...grew up in extreme poverty with his large family. In spite of her poverty, his mother (Anh’s grandmother), who lost four children, adopted two more to raise along with her eight... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
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 to... (full context)
Chapter 2
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...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 her... (full context)
Chapter 3
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
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Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...absorbing his father’s attitude of “You can do anything.” However, he is influenced by his mother’s advice that it is important to be generous to those less fortunate than himself. (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
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Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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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 looks... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
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...live with Anh and his family for two years, but then disagreements erupt between Anh’s mother and father and Uncle Two and his wife. Uncle Two and his family leave, but... (full context)
Chapter 5
Family and Community Theme Icon
Anh’s grandmother—Tam’s mother—is a big part of Anh’s childhood. Not only is she a passionate gardener, but... (full context)
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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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 around for a good school. On the... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...and manage to win partial scholarships. Even though they have not won full scholarships, Anh’s mother and father are ecstatic. Anh begins to realize that his parents are working so hard... (full context)
Chapter 6
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh’s father Tam has become an alcoholic. He no longer helps Anh’s mother with the garment business and is even occasionally violent towards his family. At times he... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Six months later, Anh’s mother tells the children that Tam is back from Vietnam, but she refuses to have him... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
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 his... (full context)
Chapter 7
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...to keep up with their wealthier schoolmates. They are terribly poor, living on their single mother’s garment-sewing wages. They can’t even afford their school uniforms, and must make do with recycled... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...must serve detention. Anh is so stressed out by his poverty that he tells his mother he wants to go to public school. This isn’t true, but he wants his mother... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
Although they are very broke, Anh’s mother continues inviting poorer relatives to stay with them. Once, she invites a destitute distant relative... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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To help his mother, Anh gets a job delivering pamphlets around the neighborhood. But he quickly realizes that the... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...promises $15,000 a year for joining up. He schedules an interview, and then asks his mother for her signature—as an underage potential enlistee, he needs her permission. His mother refuses to... (full context)
Chapter 8
Family and Community Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
Anh is heartbroken to see his mother suffering so much over the theft of the sewing machines, and curses his father for... (full context)
Chapter 9
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
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...decides to switch to comedy. He turns down the law job at Anderson Consulting. His mother, always supportive, tells him to go for the comedy career if he thinks he can... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...first time in his life, Anh secures a mortgage to buy a house for his mother in the neighborhood of Yagoona in Sydney. When he takes her to see the house,... (full context)
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
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...family arrives on the day carrying a large roasted pig, according to Vietnamese tradition. Anh’s mother and the rest of his family are overwhelmed by the opulence of Suzie’s neighborhood, as... (full context)
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...attend, but now he misses him, although he also thinks of the hardships that his mother and siblings have endured in his father’s absence. (full context)
Chapter 11
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
Courage and Perseverance Theme Icon
Family and Community Theme Icon
...nominates him for the Young Australian of the Year Award. To everyone’s delight—most especially Anh’s mother—Khoa wins the award. This marks a milestone not only in Khoa’s life, but also in... (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
...are ecstatic over Anh’s newly-found celebrity on “Dancing with the Stars.” Both his father and mother host big gatherings whenever he’s on television. (full context)
Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...that Uncle Six, who is adopted, had turned his back on the family—even ignoring his grandmother on the street. (full context)
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...for his memoir, however, Anh delves deeper into Uncle Six’s story. He discovers from his grandmother that Uncle Six was in fact not an adopted child—he was the love child of... (full context)
Chapter 12
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...to Vietnam is in 1998. After saving up, he goes there on vacation with his mother and his siblings Khoa and Tram. His mother is delighted to be back. She always... (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 grandchildren.... (full context)
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Poverty and Hardship Theme Icon
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Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...On that day, Tam admits to Anh that he is still in love with Anh’s mother. (full context)
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Anh finally confesses to his mother that he is in contact with his father. She tells him that she knows this... (full context)
Migration and Luck Theme Icon
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Family and Community Theme Icon
Betrayal and Forgiveness Theme Icon
...Bobbin National Park with his children Xavier, Luc, and Leon, his wife Suzie, and his mother. It’s a beautiful day, with perfect weather. On the boat, his son Xavier helps Anh... (full context)