Hope & Humour - Reading the New Edition of "The Happiest Refugee"

You are most probably aware that one of Australia's bestselling books for the past 12 months or so has been Anh Do's memoir The Happiest Refugee. It has won awards and hearts everywhere, and continues its relentless run on the bestsellers lists across the country. This humble tale of hardship, odyssey and ultimate success seems to strike a chord with Australian readers, and Anh Do's own wit (he is a stand-up comedian, after all) and casually masculine sex appeal are an important pat of this book's peculiar chemistry.
I was very excited to receive the brand new hard-covered gift edition of the book. Excited for a number of reasons: that a migrant tale emerging from the Vietnamese community should have such tremendous mainstream appeal; that memoir should be proving to be growing in popularity and figuring more and more prominently in the bestsellers; and that reading and publishing in Australia should be sufficiently buoyant as to warrant the publication of a deluxe hardcover of a book that premiered in paperback.

I don't know if you've ever seen Anh Do live, but he's funny, very funny. And part of what makes this terrific book so very moving is the lightness with which he wears his suffering. His has been a journey of almost impossible-to-conceive hardship and dislocation, and while he acknowledges the tough times, Anh also manages to convey a convincingly Australian facade of self-abrogation and a traditional unwillingness to dwell too much on the tough times. Instead he exalts in the new life that was made possible here for him and his family - his brother is the extraordinarily elegant and accomplished filmmaker Khoa Do (ex Young Australian of the Year).
One of the things I love about the book is the way Anh so clearly sees through some of the self-imposed myths that are immediately evident to a migrant, but which those of us more intimately connected to the status quo might skim over. For example he writes:

"There seems to be a lie perpetuated at schools, where you are told you have two options if you want to make loads of money: become a doctor, or become a lawyer. No one talks about teh rich real estate investor, the wealthy builder or even the well-to-do plumber."

It is a nuanced and engaging book, and one that is deservedly successful.
If you haven't yet read The Happiest Refugee then do go out and get this handsome new edition. It is also a perfect and quite impressive gift that will have broad appeal.

The Happiest Refugee - Special Edition by Anh Do
Hardcover, $32.99 published by Allen & Unwin
Available now.

Cambodian News

Some interesting things about Cambodia that have appeared on-line recently:

(Madeleine Thien writing in Kep, Cambodia. Photo: Stephen McCarty)

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

"Have dinner with a winner and you will find that no matter what the discussion is about, it is always goal-oriented. Winners never blame others for their situation; they are always looking forward and chasing results. They take accountability for where they are at and where they want to go."

~p. 34 in Paul Hanna's You Can Do It!

Monday Blogcrawl

I'm living in a construction site. Our bathroom is being renovated, and so I am confined to the house overseeing tilers, plumbers and electricians. I must tell you, it is the most exhausting work. Here's how I've escaped:

Death in Midsummer (RIP Challenge Update)

Oh dear.
I'm not doing so well in my first reading challenge in a long time.

But at least I'm kind of enjoying myself.
I have been reading the simply brilliant book of short stories by Yukio Mishima, Death in Midsummer.

But I am only doing one a night, so I am progressing slowly.
Last night I read the fascinating story The Priest of Shiga Temple and His Love. This was always going to appeal to me because it is concerned with two of the really great themes in my own life: eros and Buddhism. In the story an elderly celibate monk of the Pure Land sect of Buddhism finds himself lusting after one of the emperor's concubines, whose face he sees by accident. Having assumed he had overcome physical dsire, the old master is plunged into a crisis of faith, and the concubine, on hearing of the destruction she has caused a holy man, finds herself with a heightened religious sensibility.
This is a brilliant story. I was surprised by the depth of knowledge of Pure Land Buddhism - I had no idea that this was an interest of Mishima's. In many ways it really is just a meditation on Buddhist doctrine and the place of desire in that world view. It is provocative, of course - the monk decides that the only way out of his problem is to accept and embrace his desire, and in doing this he causes the concubine to become herself a holy figure, both of them realising a higher spiritual state through the peculiarity of their predicament.
If you are interested in Buddhism and haven't read this story I really recommend it - it will tantalise and intrigue you, and might inspire all kinds of theological wonderings.
Oh, and as to how it fits into the theme of the R.I.P reading challenge - it doesn't really, sorry. But don't despair - other stories in the collection have been quite dark.

Cambodia - An Overview

(Streetside rubbish picking in Phnom Penh - photo from Khmer 440)

I have been attempting to assemble lists of interesting stuff about Cambodia, principally for my own sake (I am currently writing a book about that amazing country), but also for the many people out there interested in Cambodia who don't have the time to trawl the blogs. I need to be doing it more regularly, I know, as I quickly fall behind. Apologies if any of this seems old news, but I reckon it's still fascinating:

Monday Blogcrawl

Once a month I conduct a meditation evening, and I find the hours I spend preparing for it some of the most inspiring and, ultimately, productive of my month. It's the reading, the thinking, the checking relative blogs for ideas. Not to mention the reflection and - dare I say it? - prayer. All that to get ready for basically 60 minutes of silence. Preparation is a funny thing. Here are some links from the www to help inspire you this week:

Maggie Hamilton at the Sydney Children's Festival

Maggie Hamilton at the end of her seminar at the Sydney Children's Festival

I will admit to being one of those over-enthusiastic gay uncles who takes Auntie Mame as his role model.
So when I discovered that Maggie Hamilton was speaking at the Sydney Children's Festival I instantly booked tickets for my sister and I to go along and hear her.
Maggie is the author most recently of What's Happening to Our Boys? and she gave us the most wonderful and fascinating hour-long seminar on some of the issues faced by young people today and what we can do as a society to make the world a better place for them. And, as always with Maggie, it was packed with useful and practical information, and a goodly dose of hope and inspiration to boot.

Here are some of the intersting things I learned:

Our education system has become too geared towards career goals.

There is a desperate need for a broader education that encompasses life skills, media literacy and the more general kind of liberal education that was once the goal of all teaching institutions. Through studying literature, history and languages children acquire all kinds of valuable life information.

Instead of just banning kids from doing things we don't like, we should be encouraging their other interests.

On-line gaming seems to be the principal concern here. Most parents are extremely ambivalent about the amount of time spent playing electronic games, especially by boys and young men. Maggie says that banning them in the home simply won't work. Instead we should be more sensitive to clues as to other interests and concerns young people might have apart from gaming and encourage and praise growth in these areas.

We need to honour older people in our community.

Young people are less and less exposed to a range of generational contacts, and we as a community should be doing a whole lot more to honour the wisdom and contributions of older people. Maggie talked about the Men's Shed movement, in which older men do practical work for the community where their wisdom, experience and special contribution are honoured. We need to acknowledge once again the sacred role of grandparenting, and how important it is for children.

Encourage the growth of emotional intelligence.

Maggie identifies emotional intelligence as the greatest lack in our culture - not just for young people, but among all of us. We are so switched off from the impact of our emotions, and tuned in instead to our notions of privilege and selfish desire. We have forgotten how to treat each other with respect, even at home.

Stay abreast with technology.

Too many parents are disengaged with technological change, and so have no idea what their children are doing or talking about. I think this is a really big issue, because continued technological engagement is essential across the board - it is one of the major reasons for older people's sense of isolation. It's easy to throw up your hands and say "the world has changed and I can't keep up with it," but we do so at our folly.

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My Teasers:

"Kenzo was in an undershirt, cheap trousers, and wooden clogs. His skin was fair but the lines of the shoulders and chest were powerful, and bushes of black hair showed between the mounds of muscle at the armpits. Kiyoko, in a sleeveless dress, always had her own armpits carefully shaved. Kenzo was very fussy. Because they hurt when the hair began to grow again, she had become almost obsessive about keeping them shaved, and there was a faint flush on the white skin"

~ p. 39 from the story 'Three Million Yen' in Yukio Mishima's Death in Midsummer and Other Stories

New Books - A Miscellany

Once again my "new acquisitions" section has become hopelessly overcrowded, and I need to catalogue them and get started. I thought I'd just grab a pile and record it in all its wonderful random-ness:

Angel Words by Doreen and Grant Virtue and Angels 101 by Doreen Virtue - I bought these when Doreen was in Australia recently.

The War Against Cliche by Martin Amis - Christopher Hitchens says that every writer should read this one, and I do think Martin Amis is rather a good craftsman.

On the Edge of Paradise by David Newsome - A critical study of A. C. Benson's diaries, I didn't even know this book existed till I saw it on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop. It looks fascinating.

The Quest for Corvo by A. J. A Symons (Folio Society Edition) - I'd eventually love to get Folio Editions of all my favourites. If you've never read this book you simply must go and do it today. Almost my very favourite book.

Cupid and the Jacaranda by Sacheverell Sitwell - I collect books by and about the Sitwells, and this is a gorgeous first edition, still with its dust jacket. Lovely.

A Nest of Tigers by John Lehmann - A biography of the Sitwells. See above.

Hattie by Andy Merriman - I have mixed feelings about this book because for about ten years I talked about doing it myself. It is a biography of the wonderful British actress Hattie Jacques. I can still turn into a one-man stage show, though.

Cecil Beaton's Fair Lady - Beaton's pictorial diary of the making of the film of My Fair Lady. Still Linkin its wonderful dust jacket, this was a real find.

Behind Closed Doors by Hugo Vickers - I am obsessed with the Duchess of Windsor, and have read many books by and about her. I heard about this over at the wonderful Little Augury blog, and knew I had to get it.

That Woman by Anne Sebba - See above.

William James in the Maelstrom of American Modernism by Robert D. Richardson - I am using James a lot in my thesis, and find his writing fascinating, but realised I knew very little about the man. So I got this in the hope of discovering something.

Networking Is a Contact Sport by Joe Sweeney - Looks fun, yes? Always good to get some new tips, and I am a devotee of the works of Keith Ferrazzi. This looked like it had a similar feel.
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