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