The Happiest Refugee is Anh Do’s debut in the book world and a bruisingly honest depiction of his life to date. The story starts with Do’s parents meeting and falling in love in war-torn Vietnam, and tracks a young Anh as he and his family journey from their homeland to a refugee camp in Malaysia and finally Australia. Do takes us through the pleasures and pitfalls of growing up in Australia as an outsider. One of the things that particularly stands out about his attitude to life is just how unconditionally grateful he is to have experienced everything—even the bad. This book is about war, escape, pirates, love, courage, racism, alcoholism, comedy, tragedy, and, above all, hope. The way Do approaches his story is witty, charming and heart-warming, and just when you think you’re about to die from laughter, he wrenches your heartstrings so hard that within an instant you’re on the brink of crying. This book will appeal to readers young and old, and should be mandatory reading in Australian schools, with its themes of outsiders and acceptance.
B Owen Baxter is a writer, musician and bookseller. He is currently studying Writing and Philosophy at the University of Newcastle. This review first appeared in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher.