The Happiest Refugee: Important quotes with page
1. “There are only two times. Now and too late. ” (Chapter 4, Page 74) This proverb, often stated by Anh’s father, reflects his belief that it’s important to take action when opportunities present themselves. Anh’s father was an ambitious man who often took great risks. They did not always pay off, but when they did, they changed his family’s life.
2. “And don’t kid yourself; when you don’t decide, that’s a decision. ” (Chapter 9, Page 227) This line is the inverse of the quote preceding it.Anh’s father is reflecting on the biggest regret of his life, the death of Loc in the boat and his failure to jump into the water to save him. Although he was not directly responsible, he still blames himself for his choice to do nothing.
3. “Always question your fear, Anh. There’s almost never a good reason to be scared. ” (Chapter 3, Page 57) Anh’s father shaped his early perspective on life, instilling in him lessons that influence most of his adult decisions. This quote serves as the foundation for Anh’s willingness to take risks and jump into new ventures without a safety net.
4. “You gotta listen to us, kids. As you grow up, you make sure you do as much as you can to give back to this country that gave us a second chance. ” (Chapter 3, Page 48) Anh’s gratitude is one of the most important themes running through this book. In this line by his father early in the story, we see the foundation of that belief and how it influences his later decisions once he becomes a celebrity.
5. “That’s one of the most astonishing things about my mum and dad. They always had mammoth dreams for us, but at the same time they never put us under any pressure.” (Chapter 5, Page 88) Anh discusses his parents’ positive parenting style. His parents did expect a lot of their children, but it manifested not in pressure but in determination to provide them with every possible opportunity, and to encourage them to take risks on new ventures.
6. “I was cursing everyone and everything for my mother’s suffering. Most of all I cursed my father. He should’ve been there to protect us. ” (Chapter 8, Page 174) After Anh’s father leaves, Anh’s mother works herself to the bone to ensure that Anh and his brother have the chance to stay in school.Although Anh is grateful for her efforts, he is angry that she has to do this due to his father’s departure.
7. “When I was a kid and heard all these things mum and dad used to say, I never thought they’d stick with me. But here I was, twenty-two years old, newly engaged and I had a deep need to call my Dad and say to him, ‘Dad, I’ve found the right woman’. (Chapter 9, Page 203) Although Anh has held complex and angry feelings about his father for years, it is his engagement to Suzie that pushes him to make the move to reunite with him, and it’s his memories about his parents’ marriage that provides that last push.
8. “It’s incredibly difficult to describe the feelings that go on inside you when you’re on your way to see a father you once adored, but for eight long years have been fantasising about killing. You play out the whole thing over and over again with different scenarios: a joyful reunion full of happy tears; an angry reunion where you knock him out. ” (Chapter 9, Page 203-204) Anh is still grappling with his anger towards his father when he makes the choice to see him again for the first time eight years. Despite this, his love for his father is still strong and he’s genuinely unsure which will win out.
9. “My mother’s family were stunned, and of course delighted to have their sons home again. Their son-in-law may have been skinny with wonky teeth, but his bravery, in the face of extreme danger, was breathtaking. ” (Chapter 1, Page 23) Anh’s father is always shown as unfailingly brave and clever, which makes his fall from grace later in the book all the more shocking. Here he has recently pulled off a daring escape for two of his wife’s brothers, and is welcomed into his new family.
10. “Everyone watched as Dad pulled the starter cord. The engine roared to life and we all cheered.This time Dad didn’t tell any of us to be quiet… he cheered loudest of all. ” (Chapter 2, Page 38) The darkest hour for the boat of refugees comes after they have everything taken by pirates, even their engine. Fortunately, the broken-down engine from earlier proves their salvation thanks to Tam’s ingenuity. This is another scene where Tam is seen at his best, and is the savior of his entire extended family.
11. “The most dangerous animal is the one cornered and fearful. My uncles, ex- army paratroopers, suddenly felt a surge of adrenaline and stood up in unison.They were tired and hungry and weak, but they had one last fight left in them. Then the teenage boys started calling out to each other, psyching each other up, their fear now turned into desperate rage. Everyone was ready to fight till the end. If the child was thrown into the ocean, there would be no survivors. ” (Chapter 2, Page 40) The desperation of Anh’s family as they confront another pair of pirates is one of the book’s most powerful scenes, as they fend off the attack despite having no weapons to defend themselves with besides sheer numbers.
12. “The second day on the island, American helicopters flew overhead and dropped bags of food. The drop contained a number of items, including lots of tins of corned beef—a practical and long-lasting food. For the first few weeks, our family indulged on this canned meat and, to this day, it is my mum’s favourite food. Every second Christmas she still rolls it out and I curse those choppers for not dropping something tastier. I mean, after bombing the hell out of Vietnam, the least they could’ve done was thrown us some lobster. ” (Chapter 3, Page 44)
This is the first taste Anh and his family experience of modern-day western culture. Despite their first foods being what most people would consider plebian poor-people food—canned meat—it is a rare delight to these impoverished refugees.
13. “Dad’s enthusiastic, ‘You can do anything’ attitude, coupled with Mum’s caring, ‘Look after those less fortunate’ approach, sounded like incredible advice to a kid, but I had to figure out the subtleties and deeper meaning of their advice. On more than one occasion I took them way too literally and found myself in trouble.” (Chapter 3, Page 50) Anh inherits his father’s boldness and determination from a young age, and believes he can solve any problem by approaching it with optimism and cleverness. This leads to many small disasters in business ventures, but also provides him with some of his best friends and biggest opportunities.
14. “Then six months later, a strange thing happened. Uncle Six suddenly moved out and I never saw him again. He just disappeared. I asked Mum and Dad where he went, and they genuinely didn’t know.
One day he was my favourite uncle, the next day he was gone—no phone calls, no visits, no contact ever again. We didn’t learn the truth until many, many years later; in fact, nearly two decades later. ” (Chapter 4, Page 73) Uncle Six was a major figure in Anh’s early life, serving as a surrogate father. However, his sudden disappearance from the family’s life haunted Anh for most of his life, until he found the truth out decades later. The theme of secrets runs heavily through the entire book.
15. “My family were, and still are, extremely paranoid when it comes to documentation.That night at dinner one of my uncles summed up the fear: ‘If you don’t have your identity papers they’ll kick you out of the country. ’ In hindsight, I can see where their fear came from. Those pieces of paper meant we were safe and without them my family felt as vulnerable as someone selling snacks on a Saigon train with no permit. ” (Chapter 5, Page 86) Although Anh’s home in Australia is happy and secure, the mental scars of a communist dictatorship remain and none of them ever feel truly safe from government oversight and possible removal from their current life.
16. “It’s hard to describe how strange it feels when you cross that line. When you break through having a fear of your father and decide that you’re ready and willing to hurt him. ” (Chapter 6, Page 92) Anh’s father has been heading steadily downhill ever since the collapse of the farm, and things have gotten so bad that Anh’s mother is afraid of him. Anh is shocked to realize that he simply wants the man he admired for so long gone from their lives.
17. “For that brief double period of make-believe you got to float away on an intoxicating bubble of imagination. You got to escape into a fantastical world where you could experience the highest highs and the lowest lows, death, love, betrayal, winning the princess, killing the villain, even being the villain. ” (Chapter 7, Page 125) Anh’s love affair with drama, acting, and public performance begins early, in his middle school drama class. This love carries him through as he becomes involved in comedy, acting, and writing, despite his first drama teacher’s attempt to squelch it.
18. “These little windfalls of luck meant so much to us; to go from having to scrape by to all of a sudden having something in abundance made such an impression. I often asked my mum about Vietnam, what it was like being in the middle of a war, and her answers would sometimes surprise me.
She told me it was the little trivial everyday things that you couldn’t do that was the most annoying; like running out of ingredients and not being able to just stroll up to the shops to buy some. ” (Chapter 7, Page 130) The theme of poverty runs through this book extensively, as Anh’s family experiences both massive lack in Vietnam and a modest, hard-earned life in Australia.By contrast, the small indulgences of a contest win feel life-changing to them for a short while.
19. “Then the girl turned my way and I quickly looked down at my watch, pretending to be fascinated with the time, taking way too long to see that it was 10. 05 a. m. and fifteen seconds… sixteen seconds… seventeen seconds. I had just finished six years at an all-boys school and my how-to-be-super- smooth-around-girls skills were a little bit rusty. In fact they were non- existent. ” Anh’s infatuation with Suzie pays off eventually in their happy marriage, but it’s a long road to get there.
From the start, he’s awkward and the timing is never quite right. This is illustrated in his first meeting, where he is unable to work up the courage to make contact.
20. “In that moment I know I am happy. I look up to the blue sky and give thanks. ” (Chapter 12, Page 321) Anh closes out the book by reflecting on the themes that have driven his memoir—gratitude, ingenuity, and happiness. He knows where he’s come from and how hard he worked to get here, and never forgets to pay forward all he’s been given.