MLA Gold Award Site

Excerpt from The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Beauty of Humanity Movement

A Novel

by Camilla Gibb

The Beauty of Humanity Movement
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 320 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


"There you go, Bình," Hung says, as he does every morning, dropping a handful of chopped green herbs into his bowl from shoulder height with exacting flourish.

"Hung, what happened to your glasses?" Bình asks of the crack that bisects the left lens. Hung, loath to admit he inadvertently sat upon them last night, shrugs as if it is a mystery to him too.

"Come" - Bình gestures - "let me fix them for you."

Hung dutifully unhooks his glasses from his ears and hands them to Bình's son, Tu, who is waiting beside his father with his empty bowl. Tu tucks them into his father's shirt pocket, and Bình shuffles left, making way for his son.

Tu, just twenty-two years old but so full of confidence, greets Hung with more words than Bình ever does and waves his chopsticks left and right as he tries to calculate the size of the pool. This is very much like him - Tu loves numbers in a way that seems to pain him. He used to teach math at a high school, but he has abandoned that recently in favor of entertaining tourists. Hung is not sure all that foreign interaction is good for the boy, but he trusts Bình is monitoring the situation.

Hung indulges Tu with a challenge this morning: "I'd like to see you calculate the pool's volume in terms of the numbers of bowls of pho that would be required to fill it."

Tu grins as he maneuvers his way carefully across the pool, holding his bowl right under his nose, the steam rising like incense smoldering in a temple to bathe his face.

Hung has taught Tu, Bình and Bình's father, Dao, before him that you can tell a good broth by its aroma, the way it begs the body through the nose. And pho bac - the pho of Hanoi - is the greatest seducer, because of the subtle dance of seasonings that animates the broth. It is not just the seasonings that make pho bac distinct, it is provenance, a lesson Hung would happily deliver to anyone interested in listening.

The history of Vietnam lies in this bowl, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho was born, a combination of the rice noodles that predominated after a thousand years of Chinese occupation and the taste for beef the Vietnamese acquired under the French, who turned their cows away from plows and into bifteck and pot-au-feu. The name of their national soup is pronounced like this French word for fire, as Hung's uncle Chien explained to him long ago.

"We're a clever people," his uncle had said. "We took the best the occupiers had to offer and made it our own. Fish sauce is the key - in matters of soup and well beyond. Even romance, some people say." It was only with the painful partitioning of the country in 1954 that pho went south; the million who fled communism held the taste of home in their mouths, the recipe in their hearts, but their eyes grew big in the markets of Saigon and they began to adulterate the recipe with imported herbs and vegetables. The phos of Saigon had flourished brash with freedom and abundance while the North ate a poor man's broth, plain and watered down, with chicken in place of beef as the Party ordered the closure of independent businesses like Hung's and a string of government-owned cafeterias opened in their place.

Terrible stuff it was, gray as stagnant rainwater in a gutter. Those who are old enough to remember it thank Hung for getting rid of the moldy taste in their mouths. Kids of Tu's generation probably can't even imagine it. Tu was born just before the government's desperately needed economic reforms of 1986, when the market was liberalized in order to alleviate starvation and independent ownership once again became a possibility. Only then could the true potential of pho be realized.

The challenge for Hung now has less to do with the availability of ingredients than with the need for restraint. Hung sees himself as a guardian of purity, eschewing bean sprouts and excessive green garnish in accordance with northern tradition. They may well have opened their doors to the world, but that does not mean they must pollute their bowls. an bac, mac nam, they say - "eating as in the North, clothing as in the South" - something so fundamental must be respected through deference to tradition. Hung is a man governed by such principles rather than any laws, particularly those keenly enforced by the police that are of greatest inconvenience to him and those he serves. When the officers come to ticket him for trespassing or operating without a license after he has had the peace of setting up shop in the same location for a few consecutive days, his customers will be forced to run off clutching their bowls, sloshing broth against their freshly pressed shirts, losing noodles to the pavement, jumping aboard their motorbikes and lurching into the day.

Excerpted from The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb. Copyright © 2011 by Camilla Gibb. Excerpted by permission of Penguin Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Pho : A Vietnamese Delicacy

Member Benefits

Join Now!

Check the advantages!
Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year

    •  
    • FREE
    • MEMBER
    • Range of media reviews for each book
    • Excerpts of all featured books
    • Author bios, interviews and pronunciations
    • Browse by genre
    • Book club discussions
    • Book club advice and reading guides
    • BookBrowse reviews and "beyond the book" back-stories
    •  
    • Reviews of notable books ahead of publication
    •  
    • Free books to read and review (US Only)
    •  
    • Browse for the best books by time period, setting & theme
    •  
    • Read-alike suggestions for thousands of books and authors
    •  
    • 'My Reading List" to keep track of your books
    •  

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Girl in the Blue Coat
    Girl in the Blue Coat
    by Monica Hesse
    Set in Amsterdam in January 1943, Monica Hesse's young adult novel, Girl in the Blue Coat, ...
  • Book Jacket: Everyone Brave is Forgiven
    Everyone Brave is Forgiven
    by Chris Cleave
    I've always been interested in the history of the Blitz, the period of intense aerial raids of ...
  • Book Jacket: Saving Montgomery Sole
    Saving Montgomery Sole
    by Mariko Tamaki
    Understanding identity is one the most important parts of adolescence. For some teenagers, those who...
Win this book!
Win The 100 Year Miracle

50 Copies to Give Away!

The 100 Year Miracle is a rich, enthralling novel, full of great characters.

Enter

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
Spinster
by Kate Bolick

A bold, original, moving book that will inspire fanatical devotion and ignite debate.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Alaskan Laundry
    by Brendan Jones

    A fresh debut novel about a young woman who moves to Alaska and finds herself through the hard work of fishing.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper
    by Phaedra Patrick

    In a poignant and sparkling debut, a lovable widower embarks on a life-changing adventure.

    Read Member Reviews

Members review books pre-publication. Read their opinions in First Impressions

Word Play

Solve this clue:

I I A Sign O T T

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.