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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 father, left behind when she and her mother escaped at the end of the war. In reality, it is the story of the Vietnamese coming to grips with the new world of united Vietnam, returning refugees and the modern world. In my mind, the star of the book is Old Man Hung, a pho-seller who ties the other characters together. Maggie's search for her father never quite clicked for me, I never felt that I understood her feelings for her father, but the rest of the characters made up for that. Even the incidental characters are fully realized, and the setting was perfectly described--I felt I was there in the heat and humidity, the old city decaying and the new city rising, and over all of it were the characters who, lacking their original families, make new ones with what is left. This book made me want to run out and find some pho! The writing is beautiful, the characters stayed with me long after putting the book down and the atmosphere was wonderful. I was especially interested in the views of the war from the Vietnamese viewpoints, which I hadn't encountered before. I would have liked a glossary though, as there were many Vietnamese words included in the text and it would have been easier to look them up in a glossary than try to find them again so I could puzzle them out.
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 lovely follow-up. I think my knowledge gained from Soli's novel about Vietnam and the war was helpful and added more meaning to Gibb's work.
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 lighten the harsh realities in which the characters find themselves. A MUST for my reading group not only for story line but also for discussions about the art, government, family life. culture, and traditions of Vietnam.
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 Vietnamese people engaged against the French and the Americans to regain their country. I lived during those years and was aware of the later conflict since I was a member of the US Army Reserve. However, this book refreshed my memory that people were basically alike regardless of their language, color of their skin, and so forth. As I was reading her book, the statement, "War is Hell", kept surfacing and that common people (like you and I) came to mind for we truly suffer during war time.
Donna D. (Williamsville, NY)
A Different Perspective on Vietnam
I have been reading recently about other Asian countries who have revolted successfully against repressive governments which have become repressive themselves. Having absolute power is very irresistible and addictive.
I would recommend this book to book clubs since it raises many interesting discussion topics.
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 during the Vietnam war, my previous exposure to the history and culture was a very westernized version and centered on wartime issues. This novel cast things in a very different light and Gibbs very effectively used Hung, the aging pho vendor, to draw the reader through Vietnam's turbulent late colonial, wartime, and post-war periods, always from the point of view of a poor North Vietnamese man who became educated and heavily influenced by the artists and intellectuals who frequented his pho shop. While vacationing in Vietnam, Gibbs was inspired to write this work, by a young tour guide who allowed her to question him, sharing his thoughts and aspirations. She did a nice job presenting the setting, developed a marvelous main character, but fell just a bit short in the secondary characters and developed a somewhat forced conclusion to the story.
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.
Claire M. (Sarasota, Florida)
The Beauty of Humanity Movement
It offers mystery, history and culture.
I feel this book would appeal to a great many readers.
At once both a brilliantly conceived novel about the past and present in Vietnam, and an inquiry into family, love and responsibility, Camilla Gibbs writes with familiarity with the country: in particular the trauma, deprivation and political turmoil the north experienced during the years of the American War. The main characters are well developed, especially Hung, the itinerant pho vendor. One thing that struck me was Hung’s recognition of the difference in 3 generations, with the middle one-the ones who became silenced or compromised by the revolution-not the same as the dissidents of the first and the young influenced by the post war cultural changes since opening to the west. The arts endure and somehow a people survive, nourished by what’s most meaningful to them. Love and redemption for Hung and Lan, Maggie, Tu and Binh transcend the boundaries of traditional family and bring together the stories of a nation in conflict.
Iris F. (W. Bloomfield, Michigan)
The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Few Americans have heard stories about how North Vietnam endured during our war there. Having spent time in communist or post-communist countries I'm familiar with the corrosive effects of the system on the population and Gibb has woven those into the story skillfully. This is a good book club read as well as for individuals interested in the country or the period.
As one who lived through the turmoil perpetuated by the Vietnam War, I've reacted to this lovely book on many levels. The first was in the reliving of the horror of body bags televised nightly combined with the civil unrest perpetuated by this very unpopular war. Now some 30-40 years later comes this well crafted story of this small group of Vietnamese people giving insight as to what this war was really about. The author is able to make you see the sights and smell the smells of Vietnam as well as make you care about the main characters, particularly Hung. The struggles of the main characters humanize the war in a way that is new to me. The book certainly lends itself for discussion in many directions.
Though the Beauty of Humanity Movement refers to a group of artists and poets struggling to express their art, to me the real Beauty of Humanity Movement is embodied in this small group of people who in spite of all their hardships never waiver in their devotion to one another.
I highly recommend this book.