Title: The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Author: Camilla Gibb
Publication Year: 2011
Genre: Fiction, Contemporary
Source: Review copy from the publisher, for TLC Tours
From the cover:
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.
I’ve read a lot of world literature over the past few years, particularly when I was in university, but somehow I’d never gotten around to reading anything that dealt with Vietnam. Yes, at all. There’s something about being Canadian that just doesn’t give us the same pull towards post-Vietnam War stories as our neighbours to the south have, so I hadn’t really been missing anything.
While the author of this book isn’t Vietnamese, she does have a background in anthropology, which really seems to have helped her write this novel. I was hoping to read about modern-day Vietnam in The Beauty of Humanity Movement, from the perspective of an “insider”, and that’s definitely the experience that Gibb produced. The novel is written in a sort of episodic way, moving through the present in a linear fashion, but interspersing memories, recollections, and past events throughout it in only a vaguely consecutive fashion.
I rather liked this approach. The Beauty of Humanity Movement focuses more on the experiences, ideologies, and mysteries of the characters involved, and less on the specific plot details. Yes, there is plot, and yes, there are events that are important – but it isn’t really the explaining of these events in a “this happened, then that” way that is important. Rather, what is important is the way that the characters lived these experiences, and how these events have affected their lives and their understandings of the world. Gibb does a great job of really expressing the complexities of contemporary Vietnam in a way that makes sense to an outsider and makes the reader feel for the characters and the difficulties they’ve faced.
This book is a great read for anyone who’s interested in learning about the individual manifestations of a greater culture, and the ways in which people are shaped by the things that have come before them. You don’t have to know much about Vietnam, the Vietnam War, or even Vietnamese culture – I sure didn’t – but who knows, it might give you a more nuanced understanding in the end if you do. Regardless, I enjoyed reading The Beauty of Humanity Movement, and hope that many of you will as well.
Other Tour Stops:
- Tuesday, March 15th: Fizzy Thoughts
- Wednesday, March 16th: Reading on a Rainy Day
- Monday, March 21st: BookNAround
- Tuesday, March 22nd: The House of the Seven Tails
- Wednesday, March 23rd: Unabridged Chick
- Tuesday, March 29th: In the Next Room
- Wednesday, March 30th: Rundpinne
- Monday, April 4th: Kahakai Kitchen
- Thursday, April 7th: Booksie’s Blog