Book Review: “The Happiest Refugee” by Anh Do

I didn’t know and hear about Anh Do before this book. In fact, I don’t remember who recommended this book to me. Probably I was intrigued by the title and the fact that Asian comedian are rare. For an Asian guy to rise above the poverty of refugee life and become a standup comedian in Australia takes a lot of tenacity and guts.

The story started out in the present when Anh saw his ailing father after many years since his father abandoned the family and flashed back to Anh’s parents and how they met in Vietnam. His father’s gang drove the train police from harassing the illegal sales girl and how they fell in love and got married. There were a few stories how his hero father walked into a prison with a fake ID and escorted his brother-in-law out of the jail. Then it’s the final escape from Vietnam in a boat that made his father a true hero to everyone. The journey in the sea was treacherous – 2 encounters with pirates and near death experience floating in the ocean without food. The final encounter with a German ship whose captain hinted for them to destroy their boat allowed them to be rescued.

Upon arriving in Australia, the family got to work in sewing, and raising farm animals. They were doing just fine until the high interest rate of the 80’s forced a few of their investments to go bust. It didn’t help when their new farm contracted diseases that wiped them out. They were back to sewing clothing again. At this time, his father began to use alcohol to calm his nerve and became violent with his family due to the bad investments. The father split and the family was down to one breadwinner – his mother. It’s hard enough as is but the mother continued to support his kids through private school. How Anh hid the sad financial state from his school mates was both funny and degrading.

The true heroes are his father in the early stage of Anh’s life and then his mother later when his dad abandoned the family. The charity giving nature of his mother was incredible, even seemingly at the risk of jeopardizing her own family. But they always managed to receive many folds back.

Anh Do is a hard working funny guy, shaped by the rough near-death childhood in cycles of extreme poverty and reasonable living. Despite his many talents, he chose a very risky profession – comedian – for an Asian. Very courageous. Anh shared a lot of his personal life and struggles in this book. His stories are heart warming and mesmerizing. I even found a few of his YouTube videos: the Deal or No Deal game show and the Dancing with the Star clips, mentioned in the book. He’s a great model for Asians.