Title: The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Author: Camilla Gibb
Publisher: Penguin Press HC
Publication Date: March 17, 2011
Hardcover: 320 pages
This deeply observed novel of contemporary Vietnam interweaves stories of a venerable soup seller, a young Vietnamese American curator, and an enterprising tour guide in ways that will mark all of their lives forever.
Maggie, an art curator who is Vietnamese by birth but who has lived most of her life in the United States, has returned to her country of origin in search of clues to her dissident father’s disappearance. She remembers him only in fragments, as an injured artist from whom she and her mother were separated during the war. In her journey, Maggie finds herself at a makeshift pho stall, where the rich aroma of beef noodle soup lures people off Hanoi’s busy streets and into a quiet morning ritual.
Old Man Hung, the enlightened proprietor of the beloved pho stall, has survived decades of poverty and political upheaval. Hung once had a shop that served as a meeting place for dissident artists. As Maggie discovers, this old man may hold the key to both her past and her future.
Among Hung’s most faithful customers is Tu’, a dynamic young tour guide who works for a company called New Dawn. Tu’ leads tourists through the city, including American vets on war tours, but he has begun to wonder what it is they are seeing of Vietnam-and what they miss entirely. In Maggie, he finds a young Americanized woman in search of something quite different, leading him beyond his realm of expertise. In sensual, interwoven narratives, Maggie, Hung, and Tu’ come together in a highly charged season that will mark all of them forever.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a skillfully wrought novel about the reverberation of conflict through generations, the enduring legacy of art, and the redemption and renewal of love. The story of these characters is tinged with longing for worlds and loved ones lost but also filled with the hope that faith can heal the pain of their shared country’s turbulent past. This is the distinct and complex story of contemporary Vietnam, a country undergoing momentous change, and a story of how family is defined-not always by bloodlines, but by heart.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb is a beautifully written story of the history of Vietnam as seen through the eyes of Hung, an itinerant pho seller, his friend, or as he thinks of him, his son Binh, and his “grandson” Tu. Through three generations of Vietnamese men, the reader learns of life before, during, and after the revolution, communist rule as North and South were divided and the return to free enterprise in the 90s. Most of all, the reader learns of the men involved in the Humanity Movement, who met in shops, some in Hung’s pho shop, and the flood of memories that return when one morning Maggie Ly shows up Hung’s breakfast line, asking if he knew her father, Ly Van Hai. While The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a work of fiction, Gibb offers the reader incredibly detailed accounts of the history of Vietnam and the artistic movement which she refers to as the Humanity Movement, and of the men who risked their lives, were sent to reeducation programmes and of the few, like Maggie’s father, who lived to only be killed in a war a little over a decade later. Words fail me as I think of the beauty told in this one book, Gibb takes the reader deep into modern Hanoi as well as into the Old Quarter and even back further to the 1950s. The reader will no doubt feel as though they are there, tasting Hung’s pho bac, watching Binh and Anh, cheering Tu in his endeavours and hoping Maggie is finally able to find out more about her father and the country she had to leave as a young girl. The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a bittersweet story, a look at the evolution of a country, beauty, love, suffering, and loss, along with strength of honour, duty, redemption, and family. I highly recommend The Beauty of Humanity Movement to all readers and book discussion groups; this is a book that should not be missed.
Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford University. Sweetness in the Belly was an international bestseller that garnered critical acclaim around the world. Her novels, including Mouthing the Words and The Petty Details of So-and-So’s Life, have been translated into fourteen languages. Camilla Gibb lives in Toronto.
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I received a complimentary copy of Beauty of the Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb from TLC Book Tours to be a part of this tour and offer my honest review of the book. Receiving a complimentary copy in no way reflected my review of aforementioned book.