Summary and book reviews of The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

The Beauty of Humanity Movement

A Novel

by Camilla Gibb

The Beauty of Humanity Movement
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2011, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 320 pages

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Book Summary

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.

A Note of Grace

Old Man Hung makes the best pho in the city and has done so for decades. Where he once had a shop, though, he no longer does because the rents are exorbitant, both the hard rents and the soft: the bribes a proprietor must pay to the police in this new era of freedom.

Still, Hung has a mission, if not a license. He pushes the firewood, braziers and giant pots balanced on his wooden cart through the streets of Hanoi's Old Quarter in the middle of the night and sets up his stall in a sliver of alleyway, on an oily patch of factory ground, at the frayed edge of a park or in the hollow carcass of a building under construction. He's a resourceful, roving man who, until very recently, could challenge those less than half his age to keep up.

When he is forced to move on, word will travel from the herb seller, or the noodle maker or the man delivering newspapers to the shopkeepers along Hàng Bông Road who make sure to pass the information on to his customers, ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Although most of the novel's threads are neatly tied at the end, Tu's future is left somewhat in doubt. He doesn't get Maggie nor does he get a job working at Hung's new restaurant. What future do you predict for him?


  2. Pho, referred to as Hung's wife and mistress, is almost a character. Describe the role this humble bowl of soup occupies in the novel. How does it contain the whole history of twentieth-century Vietnam?


  3. There are two small but poignant references to American Vietnam War vets: the father of Maggie's former boyfriend Daniel and Brentwood, one of Tu's American sightseers. How do these shed light on Maggie and Tu respectively? What do they say, if anything, about Vietnamese reactions to America's involvement in the war?


  4. ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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).

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Media Reviews

Library Journal

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.

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Telegraph-Journal (Canada)

[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.

Now Magazine

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.

Toronto Magazine

[A] stunning new novel, The Beauty of Humanity Movement, a moving tale of love, loss and redemption set in contemporary Hanoi.

Reader Reviews

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

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

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

Claire M. (Sarasota, Florida)

The Beauty of Humanity Movement
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...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Pho : A Vietnamese Delicacy

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 Image 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 ...

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