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, ...
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).
Full Review (625 words).
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 ...
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