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The Beauty of Humanity Movement: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

Camilla Gibb
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (47 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $10.99
You Save: $5.01 (31%)
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

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Book Description

The acclaimed author of Sweetness in the Belly journeys to Vietnam in this rich and tantalizing new novel.

Raised in the United States but Vietnamese by birth, Maggie has come to Hanoi seeking clues to the fate of her father, a dissident artist who disappeared during the war. Her search brings her to Old Man Hu'ng's pho stall. The old man once had a shop frequented by revolutionary artists, but now Tu', a hustling young entrepreneur, is his most faithful customer. Maggie, Hu'ng, and Tu' come together during a highly charged season that will mark them forever. Exploring the indelible legacies of war and art, as well as love's power to renew, The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a stellar achievement by a globally renowned literary light.




Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Every morning in Hanoi, people line up to breakfast on a bowl of pho, traditional noodle soup, made by Old Man Hung. An itinerant soup vendor living in a shantytown, Hung once owned a café where a group of dissident artists and intellectuals called the Beauty of Humanity Movement met until the Communists shut it down. If Hung is a link to Vietnam’s past, Tu, the grandson of one of the artists, is a link to its future. It is Tu’s job as a tour guide to show the sites of Hanoi to visitors from the West. One of these is Maggie, a Vietnamese American art curator who has come to Hanoi to catalog the art collection of the refurbished Hotel Metropole. She also hopes to learn something about her father, an artist, who stayed behind when Maggie and her mother fled to the U.S. Through the very different perspectives of these three, Gibb fluidly takes the reader from the bitter years of war to the Hanoi that has emerged in the reform era, which, despite all its modernization, is still a mystery to many of us. --Mary Ellen Quinn

Review

Reader reviews from BookBrowse:

"I enjoyed reading this book. The Vietnamese characters were skillfully brought to life by the author. A good job was done showing contemporary Vietnamese life while reviewing much of the history of this country. In America we don't know the story of the North Vietnamese people. This book brings out the problems and delights of their culture. By seeing North Vietnam through the eyes of a woman who is Vietnamese by birth but spent much of her life in America we can relate to many of her impressions. This book would be good for discussions in a book club."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Doris K. (Angora, MN)

"I found this a compelling, very well-written book that touches on many issues and ideas: Vietnam and Vietnamese history, culture and society; family; art and politics; how cultures and traditions shift in the face of history; "outsider" perspectives on America and Americans; food and cooking; and love and relationships. I've been to Hanoi, where the book takes place, once, for only a single week, but found her descriptions so accurate that I assumed her cultural and historical perceptions must be as well. Highly recommended."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Susan B. (Rutledge, MO)

"Camilla Gibb has created a love story, a history, and a biography which takes place in Viet Nam. This book contains so much of an education, yet it is delivered in a beautiful and interesting manor. I enjoyed this book and have been inspired to find out more of the history of Viet Nam both yesterday and today."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Trezeline B. (Columbia, MD)

"Having been a huge fan of Camilla Gibb's previous book, Sweetness In the Belly, I expected to immediately be swept up with her new one. I was slightly disappointed that it wasn't to happen right away in this book, but very much rewarded as she slowly wove her magic, unveiling an exquisite story of contemporary Vietnam, particularly her tying in of its art and literature. The main character, Old Man Hung, is a private, yet charming man who creates his own magic with his secret recipe for pho, an aromatic beef noodle soup that makes him sought after in the nearby towns. Among some of his frequent customers are a woman who is Vietnamese from the US in search of her artist father, and a young man named Tu, who is an enterprising tour guide that she enlists to show her around. These characters, as well as others in the story, are very likable, and the author does a wonderful job in her descriptions of the foods, smells, the poverty, as well as the beauty of the land and the art. A lovely and gripping novel."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Linda G. (Walnut Creek, CA)

"This was a very moving book. The story touches on the effects of war, political upheaval, repression and poverty, which might be difficult for some to read. It also touches on love and survival. It was both haunting and hopeful. I would highly recommend the book."
-Rated 5of 5 by Mary B. (St Paul, MN)

"I loved this book! Being a baby-boomer, I have long wondered why there have not been more books written about the Vietnam War and its after effects. The author writes with great sensitivity about some very difficult issues. I was impressed by her ability to weave together the stories of the various characters. Even the minor characters are memorable and add to the richness of the book. I would definitely recommend this book to readers who are interested in the people, rather than the politics or the battles, of the Vietnam War era of American history."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Kathleen W. (Appleton, WI)

"I found this an interesting read. The story is a nice blend of modern and old Vietnamese culture. There are few books in English which deal with this period of North Vietnam history. The characters are interesting and the story includes information about cooking and visual art two of my favorite subjects. I also appreciated that the author did not seem to have any political slants and just told a story."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Carolyn G. (South Pasadena, CA)

"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."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Iris F. (W. Bloomfield, Michigan)

"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. 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."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Claire M. (Sarasota, Florida)

"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 and culture. I feel this book would appeal to a great many readers."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Maggie P. (Redmond, WA)

"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."
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."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Jerry P. (Santa Rosa, CA)

"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."
-Rated 5 of 5 by Patricia S. (Chicago, IL)




Product Details

  • File Size: 478 KB
  • Print Length: 323 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 159420280X
  • Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (March 17, 2011)
  • Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004H4XHYG
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #329,284 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Three lives unfold around an soup seller in Vietnam. March 31, 2011
Format:Hardcover
Rating: Big ole swoony love.

The best books are those that can take a topic or plot that is alien to you and yet make you feel yourself in the story. Initially I wasn't swooning with excitement about this book -- interested, yes, but nothing fancier than that -- and yet, by the second chapter, I was captivated.

I often found myself stopping to read passages to my wife so we could both savor the lovely language or interesting insight about Vietnam. There's a prose-poem feel at times -- the contemporary sections are in present tense, the revolutionary sections in past tense -- but the writing isn't obtuse or florid or aloof. I loved all the characters and cared about each story. The novel moves back and forth between the present (2007ish, I believe) and the past (1950s and '60s) seamlessly, and like Hung's delicately flavored broths, the story reveals more and more in delicious, tasty layers.

Don't let an unfamiliarity with Vietnam dissuade you from reading this book: ultimately, all you need to know is presented in the story. The conflicts and joys shared by the characters are easy to relate to and emphasize with and the historical events are given enough context to be meaningful. I found it impossible not to be sucked into this lovely, evocative, moving novel.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A wonderful book but DON"T read this on Kindle January 25, 2012
Format:Hardcover
I loved this book, so full of feeling and emotion - but the Kindle version has formatting problems and all the Vietnamese words appear huge in comparison to the remaining script. As this includes all the names, the problem occurs several times on most pages. This has resulted in several reviewers rating the book as 1 or 2 stars where it should definitely be up in the top rankings.

The main character, Old Man Hung, is a master at the art of making Pho, the local Vietnamese soup that is so popular for breakfast. Once he had a shop, but all this has been taken away by the authorites over the years and now he scrapes together a living as an itinerrant Pho seller, setting up shop in a different spot each day, still evading the authorites.
His home now is in a poverty stricken wasteland by a muddy lake, where he holds together a community of down and outs living in rotting shacks. Once, however, he ran a Pho cafe, a central meeting point for many of the art community who discussed poetry and tried to express opinions against the regime. Needless to say they were all eventually arrested, tortured, murdered. Only Hung remains with his failing memories, trying to scratch a living.

Hung's only 'family' are Binh and his son Tu. Hung knew Binh's father, Dao, a prominent figure amongst the artists, the only person who treated Hung as an intelligent person and drew him into the artists' fold. Hung preserves his memory and is, in turn, watched over by Binh and Tu.

Into this fascinating mix comes Maggie, a Vietnamese who escaped as a child, with her mother, in the last of the evacuation planes to America. Her artist father never made it and she has returned to Hanoi to try and trace memories of him that might linger amongst artistic circles.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Format:Hardcover
The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb is a very interesting novel situated in Hanoi, Vietnam. Its timeframe is the present but the novel also deals quite a bit with the 1950's and 1960's, providing an extensive history of the country. The Beauty of Humanity Movement refers to a group of artists, poets, and writers who all gathered around Hung's pho cart in the 1950's and 1960's before they were arrested, re-educated or killed by the communists.

As the story opens, Hung is an old man who wheels his pho cart from place to place. He can't afford legitimate rents and he can't afford the illegitimate rents where one pays someone else off in order to have a set space in which to park daily. Hung is a legend. He is part of the original Beauty of Humanity Movement and is said to make the best pho in Hanoi. Pho is a type of noodle soup that must have the perfect blend of spices and other ingredients. Lately, however, Hung's memory is going and it is only off an on. One day he forgot to put the coriander in the soup. He is so poor that his only pair of sandals are wearing through.

Maggie is a Viet Kieu, a Vietnamese who was exiled and raised out of her country. In Maggie's case, she grew up in the United States. Her father was part of the Beauty of Humanity Movement and was lost to Maggie and her mother. No one knows what happened to him and Maggie has returned to Vietnam to try and find him. This part of the novel is a bit vague as the only clue she has is Hung, and he is not much help to her due to his faltering memory. He tells Maggie that her father's name is familiar but he is not truly sure.

Dai was the leader of the Beauty of Humanity Movement. His son, Binh is still alive. An interesting story is associated with Binh.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Dazzling!! May 29, 2012
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
As an occasional visitor to Vietnam, I was utterly amazed at this keenly accurate portrayal of an intricate, complex, multilayered culture. It is exactly the Vietnam I know, with many historical and cultural gaps expertly filled in. Today's Vietnam, "its doors thrown open to the West," is deftly portrayed against the backdrop of a suffering, complicated history and significant generational differences. A truly excellent novel of Vietnam. Highly recommended.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating tale brilliantly told
This story, told with great compassion and sensitivity, now ranks as one of the finest 5 novels I have ever read. Read more
Published 5 days ago by Frank Fetters
4.0 out of 5 stars A quick deep look at life in VietNam focused on ...
A quick deep look at life in VietNam focused on the Vietnamese with a quality of truth that took me there.
Published 13 days ago by Avid Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully crafted
A story that is unique in design, and powerfully crafted. It is soft, strong, highly emotive, and raw and visceral at the same time. Read more
Published 1 month ago by bigboppar
4.0 out of 5 stars I'm glad the book was picked for book club.
Enjoyed the book. A great book club book. The book provided a theme lunch for book club. What a great idea!
Published 2 months ago by Rose Holman
4.0 out of 5 stars Loved this book!
Such a beautiful, hopeful story. I've always enjoyed reading novels about Asian cultures, but this is my first foray into Vietnam. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Kathleen R. Morse
5.0 out of 5 stars The perfect bowl of pho
Beautiful story about Vietnam and one mans struggle to make the perfect pho. Wonderful characters. Very touching. Very realistic picture of the era and hanoi
Published 6 months ago by Sally A. Rissel
4.0 out of 5 stars An insight into modern Vietnam
I read this book while visiting Hanoi (where it is set) and found that it brought the city to life for me. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Alitk
4.0 out of 5 stars The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Modern Vietnam. There are plenty of books about the war, but you don't often see as many about what's going on in the country in this time. Read more
Published 6 months ago by M. Reynard
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Club Book
A lovely book. one can easily be transported into the characters' lives. A part of the world we don't often hear about.
Published 7 months ago by Katie
5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing
I really enjoyed this story and the author's writing style. As a Vietnam veteran and a writer who has written often on the war, I was especially interested in a tale told about the... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Loren w Christensen
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More About the Author

Camilla Gibb was born in London, England, and grew up in Toronto. She has a Ph.D. in social anthropology from Oxford University for which she conducted research in Ethiopia. In 2000, she made the leap and became a full-time writer.

Camilla is the author of three novels, numerous short stories, articles and reviews. She was nominated for Canada's highest literary honour, the Giller Prize, in 2005, and won the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000 and the CBC Canadian Literary Award for short fiction in 2001. Her books have been published in 19 countries and translated into 15 languages and she was named by the jury of the prestigious Orange Prize as one of 21 writers to watch in the new century.

Camilla currently lives in Toronto, where she serves as Vice President of PEN Canada and Writer-in-Residence at the University of Toronto.

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