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.
With 22 out of 23 reviewers rating it 4 or 5 stars, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a top pick among BookBrowse readers! Here's what they have to say:
I felt like I was there in the heat and humidity, the old city decaying and the new city rising. This book made me want to run out and find some pho (Patricia S)! I've been to Hanoi, where the book takes place, and found Gibb's descriptions so accurate that I assumed her cultural and historical perceptions must be as well. I highly recommend this book (Susan B). The author does a wonderful job in her descriptions of the art, foods, smells, and the beauty of the land as well as the poverty - a lovely and gripping novel (Linda G). (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).
Well written and engaging, with characters that represent the participants and consequences of a country in the middle of great change, this work is recommended where Tan and similar authors are appreciated.
As a history told through food, this is very good; as a novel, it lacks a little savor.
The Gazette (Canada)
A bittersweet story of old lost love....A debunker of stereotypes and a seeker of the big picture, [Gibb] isn't satisfied with merely creating convincing characters and a bold plot. She educates and enlightens the reader whose grasp of Vietnam's history and culture may be based on little more than the vague recall of old headlines.
[Gibb's] latest work slips like silk into the psyche of contemporary Hanoi....Gibb's largely unadorned writing is rather like Hung's pho, delicious for its austerity and complexities.
The Globe and Mail (Canada)
Gibb ties the strands of narrative together in the same way that Hung makes his pho – with care, with gentleness and with reality. She employs all the senses to create a vivid aesthetic tapestry of the concrete, and then infuses it with the abstractions of family and ambition and respect for elders.
Great characters, expertly written…another winner from Gibb.
The Sun Times (Canada)
Simply heartwarming....Writing with grace and understanding, [Gibb] tells of years of oppression, poverty, artistic resistance, and finally, survival....The book left me astonished.
[A] stunning new novel, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, a moving tale of love, loss and redemption set in contemporary Hanoi.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Patricia S. (Chicago, IL) Beauty of Humanity Movement This is a wonderful book with a setting that is unique for historical fiction. Set shortly after the opening of Vietnam after the war, on the surface, it is the story of a Viet Nieu (refugee) woman returning to Vietnam to discover the fate of her... Read More
Rated of 5
by Elizabeth (upstate NY) fascinating study of a country A haunting tale of the lingering effects of the Vietnam War for the country of Vietnam and its people. I recently read The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, which takes place during the Vietnam War, and I found The Beauty of Humanity Movement to be a... Read More
Rated of 5
by Florence K. (Encino, California) The Beauty of Humanity Movement A tautly written book about the long-lasting effects of the war in Vietnam on the Vietnamese people makes for very interesting reading. The three main characters are well developed, especially that of old man Hung. The bitter-sweet romances... Read More
Rated of 5
by Jerry P. (Santa Rosa, CA) The Perfect Pho! I enjoyed this book. Ms Gibb is a good writer. (Actually, I have been browsing Amazon.com to select another of her books.) Her characters were very well developed. I was pleasantly surprised by how knowledgeable she was about the conflicts the... Read More
Rated of 5
by Donna D. (Williamsville, NY) A Different Perspective on Vietnam This was a difficult book to rate because, while it was slow getting going, I loved the central character, and was led to think a lot about the history and culture of Vietnam from a very new perspective. Since I had many peers who faced the draft... Read More
Rated of 5
by Maggie P. (Redmond, WA) The Beauty of Humanity I loved the prospective of this book. It gives back ground into a world I think is unfamiliar to most people. I found myself not wanting to put it down and/or picking up just to read a couple more lines here and there.
It offers mystery, history... Read More
In Camilla Gibb's novel The Beauty of Humanity Movement, Old Man Hung is the resourceful owner of a rickety pho stand, and, in many ways, he holds the community together throughout Vietnam's political turmoil, one bowl at a time.
Pho (pronounced "fuh") is a Vietnamese rice noodle soup that is eaten at any time of day (breakfast, lunch, or dinner). It is usually made with some kind of meat - rare steak slices (pho tái), tripe (pho sách), chicken (pho gà), or often beef meatballs (pho bò viên) - and is served with basil, bean sprouts, fresh lime and hot peppers on the side. As noted in NPR's news story, Pho Sells, the clear, brown, flavorful broth is what makes pho particularly special; washed beef bones are traditionally cooked for eight to ten hours with charred onions, cilantro, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, and star...
Inspired by the lives of the author's maternal grandparents - City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of the shifting face of a beautiful but torn nation.
A big, powerful saga of men in combat, written over the course of thirty-five years by a highly decorated Vietnam veteran.
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