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Plot

Back in 1998, Anh’s mum had always wanted to show him and his siblings Vietnam, she wanted to show them “where [they] all came from”. Anh works overtime at the cake shop and he sorted mail until his “fingers were numb”. Even his Mum and siblings worked hard to save up enough to go to Vietnam. Not too long after, they had saved up enough for four tickets back to “where this crazy, wonderful journey all began”. Do mentions how for the first time his Mum had dreamt about something else, other than getting her kids through those “long, difficult years”. When they get to Vietnam, Anh starts experiencing “this weird déjà vu”, even though he had left Vietnam when he was only two. When walking around, the locals can tell that the Do family are tourists, even though they can speak the language. And thinks that it’s his “jeans, Blundstones and NRL footy jumpers” that make them stand out, so, he goes to a second-hand clothes shop and buys some used clothes. Everywhere they went, Anh “saw deep poverty”, and whenever his Mum gave someone money, they would thank her like they had just won “Deal or No Deal”. During their trip, Anh meets a skinny, young boy who reminds him of himself, and then he realises that if he didn’t make it out of Vietnam he “could’ve easily ended up selling trinkets at a temple”. The Do family make it to a place called Mekong Delta, which is very close to the place where “[they] left Vietnam on [their] boat”. On the way back though, their bus is stuck on one side of the river, so Anh pays a truck driver to tow them across, which gets him praise from the passengers on the bus. This is also when Anh’s mum paints his Father in a positive light when mentioning “he is very good at these things, just like his father”.

Anh’s mum stopped working and spends her days looking after Anh’s kids. She learns English after so many years and can now understand what Anh’s jokes actually mean. Anh take his Mum inside the Opera House to watch one of his shows. After the show is done, he mentions that she is in the crowd, and she gets a standing ovation. She starts crying and starts weeping as well.

Anh and his Mum travel around Australia for a company, doing a duo show. Anh does his comedy and his Mum cooks on the show as well. Anh gets his mum $4000 total for the show, and she is considered “fantastic”. While in Adelaide, his Mum visits Uncle Dai (a baker) and takes 300 pasties to take back to Sydney for Leon’s christening. On the show, Anh’s mum teaches the audience how to do a Peking Duck, and she is a “big hit”. Back in the hotel, they both have to clear out their mini-bars to fit the pasties inside them. When back in Sydney, Anh’s mum has the benefit if bragging about how easy it was to much that much money. When Anh’s mum walks into her English class, they are shocked to see her at the end of a movie they are watching about Anh, and she is given the nickname ‘Action!”.

Anh sees his Uncle Two on TV inside a mental hospital due to some trauma from the war he was in. Anh remembers how one time his uncle was left alone at his Dad’s house for three weeks and had fathered a nest of baby birds because he had got lonely. Anh describes the smell of bird poo as “the indescribable smell of loneliness”. Anh’s cousin Joe gets married, but Anh’s father has to give the speech at the wedding since Joe’s father is in the mental hospital. It is at the wedding that Anh’s father admits to him that Anh’s mother is still “the most beautiful woman in the world” and that he “still [loves] her”.

Anh tries to convince his siblings to go and visit their father since his “health problems were so severe”. Anh even takes it as far as telling his brother “if you don’t [go] I’m gonna smash you and drag you to see him”, but that doesn’t work. Anh then decides to be sneaky and tells his brother to go and show his Dad “how irrelevant he is”. Khoa goes to see his father and so does Tram. Six months later, when Anh goes to visit his Dad, he finds out that he has been cured of his tumour. Anh also tells his Dad how his newborn son is named after him. Anh’s mum still thinks that Anh’s father is a bad person and calls him a “bastard”.

The book ends with Anh describing a trip to “Bobbin Head National Park”. Anh hires a boat for him, his wife, three kids and Mum so that they can enjoy the “warm, but not too hot” weather. Anh realises that many years ago, it’s because of his parents setting out on a boat trip that he has the life he has today.

Theme

Theme #1: Identity  Identity: Identity is the term used to describe how a person views themselves overall, examples being nationality, religion and even traditions or habits can define ones identity. These things can change how a person acts entirely.

In chapter 12, Do speaks of his first trip back to Vietnam after escaping the war zone at such a young age. This country heavily impacted who he is today, with his family constantly speaking of it and how his life was actually saved all relate back to his identity. He identifies as an Australian but still views his Vietnamese inheritance just as important.

Even today, millions of people are experiencing the same hardship that Do’s family experienced: secretly buying a terrible boat and deciding to risk their lives to escape subjugation and execution from their countries government, then facing famine and death out on the sea and finally arriving in a safe haven such as Australia. Instead they are now being pushed back out there to fend for themselves, this theme of identity relates to these happenings because the hardship these people face makes them either stronger or weaker and can drastically change their views on the world and the people in it.

“Mum had always wanted to show us where we all came from.” “Here I was in Vietnam...and I wanted to get around like a local.” “If my family hadn’t embarked on that trip… I could’ve (been) selling trinkets at a temple.”

Theme #2: Home Home: Is a building or place where a person lives and spends their lives there, home can even reach the level of being with a person or sitting in a particular place in a park. The sense of home can even be viewed as an emotion that bleeds content and joy.

In chapter 12, Do experiences just how different his home could’ve been if his family had decided not to risk their lives and stay in Vietnam. He has numerous epiphanies which are centred on how he would’ve lived and how he’d never know or see the things he has seen today.

Everybody deserves a home and even if you may be experiencing the worst of luck, there is one place you know that will always have its door (literally and metaphorically) open for you. Home can bring along the feeling of independence if you provide for yourself, can be a part of your identity and can even make you feel your happiest. Some people are still searching for their homes, whether it is on a rickety boat out at sea or a poor person trying to salvage any money. Everyone has a home.

“We’ve got nothing to worry about in Australia. Nothing to worry about at all.” “The smells were familiar and they triggered strong feelings and sensations.”

Theme #3: Survival Survival: Is the act of being able to withstand hardship and/or stress to achieve a goal or to survive an experience.

In chapter 12, Do’s mother realises for the first time in many years how far her survival and willpower have gotten her. Escaping Vietnam with the worst chances of living, having too many jobs and children to care for, her husband disappearing one night and finally being strong enough for herself has made his mother strong. Now, she is able to grant herself thanks when she visits Vietnam. Do’s father also experiences a survival problem throughout this chapter.

People go through numerous problems in their lives, whether it is extreme as heading out on a boat in the hopes of leading a new life or going through job problems, each experience shapes people to who they are now and grants them more power to push forward. Survival is even linked biologically to humans through our flight or fights response or even to our desperation to escape something or change it entirely. The act of survival can make or break an individual.

“This trip was a walking, living vindication of all Mum’s effort.” “’I’m clean Anh,” he said… ‘Doctor says I’m clean.”


Character

In chapter 12 of the ‘The Happiest Refugee’ by Anh Do, there are three characters that showed the most change throughout the chapter and novel. The first character is protagonist Anh. Now Anh’s significance in this novel is that this book has been written about his life, his family and his journey that has made him the man he is today. He started out as a young boy trying to get away from the Vietnam war with his family, but the only way for them to leave was by boat, they weren't the only ones leaving and so there ended up being 39 people trying to escape from this third world country. They had to survive on little amounts of food and water, they had pretty much nothing to keep them warm and ran into pirates along the way. Due to all of this happening it caused Anh’s attitude and personality to change because at the beginning of this novel, Anh is a shy boy full of anger towards his father and country and feels like an outsider when he arrives in Australia. By the end of the book Anh is a comedian who is very wealthy, confident and in communication with all his family and friends. 

The second character is Anh’s mother who is very loving, caring, strong and in charge of the house, at the beginning of the book due to Anh’s father leaving them. She had to look after 3 sons on her own with only a Vietnamese migrants wage, which is a pretty amazing thing to do. Anh’s mum doesn't ask or expect much from anyone as she is already greatful to Australia for permitting her and her family into the country. Anh’s mother changes when she starts speaking on Anh’s shows. She becomes more confident and her persona evolves into more relaxed, relieved and proud when with family and friends. 

The third character that I thought changed a lot was Anh’s father. Anh’s father is a very hard working and dependable man at the beginning of this novel. Anh’s father was his roll model and he looked up to very much and always wanted to be Iike him. When Anh’s father leaves him at the age of 13, Anh becomes full of anger, rage and hatred towards him, until he meets up with him later on and finds out why he left in the first place. By the end of the book Anh’s father slowly comes back into his life and try's to be there for each of his sons. His fathers personality changes from being proud to more unhappy and not confident due to him being ill.

As Anh’s parents say a lot in the novel “Give back to the country that gave us so much”


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