Anh Do nearly didn't make it to Australia. His entire family came close to losing their lives on the sea as they escaped from war-torn Vietnam in an overcrowded boat. But nothing -- not murderous pirates, nor the imminent threat of death by hunger, disease or dehydration as they drifted for days -- could quench their desire to make a better life in the country they had dreamed about.
Life in Australia was hard, an endless succession of back-breaking work, crowded rooms, ruthless landlords and make-do everything. But there was a loving extended family, and always friends and play and something to laugh about for Anh, his brother Khoa and their sister Tram. Things got harder when their father left home when Anh was thirteen -- they felt his loss very deeply and their mother struggled to support the family on her own. His mother's sacrifice was an inspiration to Anh and he worked hard during his teenage years to help her make ends meet, also managing to graduate high school and then university.
Another inspiration was the comedian Anh met when he was about to sign on for a 60-hour a week corporate job. Anh asked how many hours he worked. 'Four,' the answer came back, and that was it. He was going to be a comedian! The Happiest Refugee tells the incredible, uplifting and inspiring life story of one of our favourite personalities. Tragedy, humour, heartache and unswerving determination -- a big life with big dreams. Anh's story will move and amuse all who read it.
The subtitle of this book is "the extraordinary true story of a boy's journey from starvation at sea to becoming one of Australia's best-loved comedians" and that pretty much covers this book!
I was familiar with the comedy of Anh Do after watching him perform on late night TV shows for several years but it was only earlier this year that I recall having heard about the story of how he and his family came to live in Australia. The first time I heard any of the story was during a History Channel documentary about the history of Australia hosted by Tony Robinson (who is probably either best known as Baldrick from Black Adder or as the host of Time Team) where the focus of the episode was multiculturalism, particularly against the current political climate in relation to refugees here in Australia.
Fast forward a short period of time, and I watched the SBS series Go Back to Where You Came From (which I posted about here), and the timing seemed to be just right for reading an immigrant story, talking about the contribution that so many refugee have made to Australian life. And what a story Anh has to tell. His family were boat people, escaping from Vietnam in the late 1970s on a very leaky boat, surviving near starvation and much more. Instead of me recapping, I thought I would let Anh tell you some parts of his story:
I don't read a lot of autobiographies but I do think that a sign of a good one is when you can hear the voice of the person clearly in the pages, and this was a book where that really happened for me.
Particularly poignant for me were the sections which dealt with his school life, with his single mum struggling to make enough money to raise her three children and still send them to good schools, and then his eventual reunion with his dad. One thing that was conveyed very clearly through the book was the importance of family to Anh. If you want to make me cry, then mention children's relationships with their father, particularly if they are reunited after a period of separation! As an aside, the other time I am guaranteed to cry is about fathers at weddings...every damned time.
Anh tells about starting out as a comedian and as an actor, touching on his time on Dancing with the Stars and more, about studying to be a lawyer, meeting his now wife and more. His positive attitude shines through hardship, through hard work, through trial and through triumph.
If you need a book to touch you, to make you laugh and cry, this one might be just what you are looking for.
This book recently won Book of the Year, Newcomer of the Year and was joint winner of Biography of the Year at the Australian Book Industry Awards.