The Beauty of Humanity Movement

The Beauty of Humanity Movement

Book - 2010
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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 ploughs 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 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."
 
--from The Beauty of Humanity Movement (p 5) by Camilla Gibb
 
Old Man Hu'ng has been making and selling pho to hungry devotees for nearly 70 years, continually adapting his recipe and the location of his food cart to accommodate the terrible demands of poverty, war and oppression that have plagued Hanoi throughout his long life. Cherished least of all his mother's ten children thanks to an inauspicious facial birthmark, Hu'ng was sent in 1933 to apprentice at his Uncle Chien's restaurant where he achieved mastery over broth and noodles. Inheriting the business from his uncle, Hu'ng's sublime cookery and willingness to barter made him a favourite in the 1950s with the Beauty of Humanity Movement, a group of artists and intellectuals who dared question Communist rule, at great peril.
 
Heading the Movement was Dao, a poet whose young son Binh would shadow Hu'ng at the restaurant, hungry not for noodles but for the attention that his own revolutionary father was too distracted to provide. When Dao was inevitably arrested, Binh's mother whisked the boy into hiding, blinding him in one eye to avoid conscription. Hu'ng was forced to close his restaurant, but not knowing any other life's work, he persisted in making and selling pho by pushing a food cart through the city, even when forced to make his noodles with scavenged pond weeds.
 
Fifty years later, Binh is a middle-class Hanoi carpenter who once again consumes daily bowls of Hu'ng's pho, following the old man to whatever location he has moved to in order to evade police beatings. Binh tries valiantly to protect Hu'ng, the gentle old man who is as close to a father as he has ever known. By extension Hu'ng is also a grandfather to Binh's son Tu', a somewhat aimless Nike-shod tour guide who wears his clothes and hair in modern fashion, and yet whose spirited idealism reminds Hu'ng of his revolutionist grandfather.
 
Then one day Hu'ng's improvised pho stand is visited by a beautiful stranger, Maggie, a foreign-raised Vietnamese art curator who was spirited out of Hanoi as a child during the fall of Saigon. Her artist father disappeared in those tumultuous times, and Maggie has returned to the country of her birth to learn his fate. Hearing of Hu'ng's reputation, she has come to plead for answers--did he know her father? Hu'ng's memory is failing, but he dearly wants to help this young woman, whose beauty sends him back to a time long ago, when he loved a girl whose betrayal he has never forgiven. . .
 
Steeped in rich and highly evocative language, Camilla Gibb's The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a nuanced and gentle paean for Vietnam, a poignant testament to the strength and resiliency of love and art in overcoming terrible hardship.

Publisher: Toronto : Doubleday Canada, c2010
ISBN: 9780385663229
0385663226
Branch Call Number: FIC Gibb 3558ad 1
Characteristics: 297 p

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s
sgcf
Mar 26, 2017

Gibb captures the real feel of Hanoi in snapshots of street life, political oppression, restaurants, squalor, art and poetry, both now and in fleshing out the past. In these scenes she inserts people we can believe in – a young tour guide, an American art curator who is Vietnamese born, and old but expert pho (soup) maker, martyrs for freedom of speech, a new generation of rap political protestors. Gibb layers them in ever changing combinations and situations as the story moves along, just like a good bowl of layered pho.

z
Zapacuerno
Sep 17, 2016

I liked this book. It gives a glimpse of a people whose lives were ruined by a judgemental political party which had no sense of proportion in deciding who was corrupt and bourgeois, crushing creativity and commerce. It is sad but their resilience prevails and life goes on. I think the descriptions are very vivid and the characters are likeable and well-drawn.

1
1_critic
Feb 16, 2016

What Ms Gibb lacks in the narrative, she makes up for in the descriptive. An easy, interesting read but not worthy of five stars in a literary sense. What kept the pages turning for me - who was a teenager during the tumultuous years of the US involvement in Nam - was a glimpse at the history and sociopolitical evolution in the lives of the North Vietnamese as seen through the eyes of the main characters.

w
writermala
Oct 11, 2015

Set in post war Vietnam this book is about Maggie, a Vietnamese who was brought up in America. She goes back to Vietnam to find the story of her father an artist who paid with his life during the revolution. The central character in the book is Old Man Hung who collects a crowd around his Pho pot and whose memories go back a long way. Maggie meets Hung through a young tour guide, Tu and the rest is the story. A well written account of a terrible period in Vietnamese history.

RPLRebecca Sep 03, 2014

Don’t let the strange title put you off. This captivating novel by Camilla Gibb spans three generations in Vietnam - during and after the Vietnam War. The “Beauty of Humanity Movement” is a group of artists and intellectuals who question Communist rule. The story follows this artists' collective and their friends and families but the central element of the book isn't a character, but rather, pho, a delicious soup served for breakfast. This is one flavourful novel you won’t soon forget!

SusanWool Mar 15, 2014

I loved this book. The author really captured the feeling of present-day Vietnam and the struggles of the country and her people and presenting history in a way that makes it come alive with characters who are three-dimensional and real and immensely appealing. And using pho, the Hanoi beef soup which is more than just a food, more like the soul of a country, as a touchstone, was brilliant. A tragic history, but with hope for the future as well. I am very sad to discover that Camilla Gibb's other novels are not available to borrow except as e-books or to read in the reading room.

Susan March 14, 2014

r
Ricecracker
Mar 03, 2014

Love this book.

m
modestgoddess
Mar 24, 2013

Oh, what a beautiful, wonderful book. At first I thought I would resist it, since I wasn't sure how to pronounce the names and thought that would trip me up all the way through - but very quickly, the story took me over. Moving, touching, affirming. All you need to know, really, is that it's about a man who makes soup in Hanoi, Vietnam; he is the locus and the catalyst for all that happens. There is a handful of other important characters, all connected to him. The layering and texture of this novel is marvellous. AshRichards' comment about the ending surprises me very much - I couldn't have asked for anything more.

AshRichards Oct 02, 2012

Great beginning, satisfying middle and rushed, superficial ending.

It is the talent of the author that she created such enveloping characters, but it is also the fault for not thoroughly fleshing out an ending that the characters deserved.

alicia_marinache Aug 23, 2012

A very profound story: Mrs. Gibb captured the horrors of the communist / revolutionary society very well, and managed to paint a vivid and sad picture of it. I have rarely read a book so well-written about communism, and this book helped me understand some points I always missed about Vietnam (although I grew up in a communist Easter-European country). Going to check her other works, as well some history books :)

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LudditeLord Jun 20, 2012

quotes Old Man Hung "Consult Buddha on matters of the heart. Ask the ancestors for help with business. This is responsible capitalism."

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