The Happiest Refugee

by

Anh Do

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The Happiest Refugee Summary

It is the late 1970s in Saigon, Vietnam, and rhe Vietnam War has recently ended. In the aftermath of the war, and under the grip of a repressive Communist regime, the country’s population suffers through hardship and poverty. Anh Do is then only two-and-a-half years old. His father and mother have decided to flee the country, taking Anh and his baby brother Khoa with them. They are accompanied by over thirty members of their extended family, as well as family friends. The journey proves more perilous than they could have ever imagined: on the small fishing boat on which the family makes their escape, they barely evade Vietnamese patrol boats, are almost shipwrecked in a violent storm, and are captured by pirates, who strip them of all their valuables and the few provisions they had brought with them. Miraculously, the family survives. They are rescued by a German merchant ship, which brings them to safety.

The family begins a new life in Australia, the country that offers them asylum as refugees. Soon, Anh’s family find their feet in their new adoptive city of Sydney. His parents launch a garment sewing business that sees them prospering enough to help other Vietnamese relatives and members of the community, many of whom come to live with them for long or short periods of time. Anh and his brother Khoa attend primary school, quickly adapting to their new environment.

The family’s prosperity comes to an end, however, when Anh’s father loses the family’s money—as well as the savings of several of his brothers—on farming and real estate ventures that fail. This not only leads to conflict among the brothers, it also leads Anh’s father into a downward spiral: he becomes an alcoholic, and is even violent towards his wife, two sons, and daughter Tram. Soon, he abandons his family, and Anh doesn’t see his father again for eight years.

Forced to survive on a single mother’s garment sewing wages, the family struggles with poverty. Anh and his brother Khoa can barely afford the uniforms and textbooks for the expensive boys’ school that they attend. Nonetheless, Anh perseveres, and in his final year of high school, he decides to pursue a university degree in law—this, he decides, is a lucrative career path than can help lift his family out of poverty. In law school he falls in love with Suzie, the beautiful blonde law school student who becomes his close friend.

Although Anh continues with his law studies, he finds that his heart is not in law work, and so he begins simultaneously studying art. When he attends a comedy show one night with a law school friend, Anh is inspired to take up comedy, and soon begins booking small gigs doing stand-up. In his final year of law school, he’s offered a high-paying job at a big law firm. Knowing that his heart is not in ir, however, he decides to pursue a comedy career fulltime—and plunges in headfirst.

Eventually, Anh gets together with Suzie, and the two become engaged. After eight years of estrangement, Anh makes contact with his father, whom he finds living in Melbourne with a new partner and a baby son. Soon, Anh discovers that his father is suffering from a serious brain tumor.

After his marriage to Suzie, Anh continues with his comedy career, which eventually leads to television roles. He achieves enough financial security to buy his mother a home. After scripting and directing his own film, “Footy Legends,” Anh receives more and more television roles—eventually ending up on the show “Dancing with the Stars.” His appearance on this show transforms him into a national celebrity. His siblings reconcile with his father, who recovers from his tumor. Once Anh and his siblings are all grown up and financially secure, his mother finally stops working and devotes herself to caring for her grandchildren. Anh’s career continues to prosper, and he finds immense happiness with his wife Suzie and the three boys that they have together.

On a beautiful, sunny day, Anh, his wife and children, and his mother take a trip to a national park, where they board a boat from which they can enjoy the lovely views. Surrounded by his loved ones and reflecting on the long journey that has led his family from Vietnam to this leisurely boat ride in the national park in Australia, Anh considers just how lucky he has been, and gives thanks.