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The Beauty of Humanity Movement

3.89  ·  Rating Details ·  2,827 Ratings  ·  431 Reviews
Tu’ is a young tour guide working in Hanoi for a company called New Dawn. While he leads tourists through the city, including American vets on “war tours,” he starts to wonder what it is they are seeing of Vietnam–and what they miss entirely. Maggie, who is Vietnamese by birth but has lived most her life in the U.S., has returned to her country of origin in search of clues ...more
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Doubleday Canada (first published April 6th 2010)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Friederike Knabe
Apr 15, 2012 Friederike Knabe rated it really liked it
"Old Man Hung makes the best pho in the city and done so for decades..." The city is Hanoi and "pho" the national Vietnamese dish. It is a flavourful broth poured over a mix of herbs, vegetables, vermicelli and meat (if there is any). In this novel, pho plays an essential role: the soup comes close to being a companion character, echoing the ups and down of its cook's circumstances. The story of the pho-making cook/seller and his popular soup are not only at the centre of events, they are also ...more
Nov 30, 2010 Karen rated it it was amazing
I truly loved this novel. My Husband chose it for the book club at our Unitarian Universalist church, as we try to have a deeper understanding of other cultures. I don't usually join in the novels that this group reads as their choices have not appealed to me, but I joyfully said yes to The Beauty of Humanity Movement and was not disappointed. It was great to share the read of such a beautiful and sensitive story with my husband. It's not another depressing Canadian novel. It has too many ...more
I loved so many things about this book and it makes me want to read all the historical fiction. I wanted to take some time to think about it but if I don't drop a blurb here now, I may never get around to doing so. And I always feel guilty when I read a treasure and keep all the goodness to myself.

First I'll start with the book's interesting cast of characters:

Maggie is a first generation Vietnamese-American. She and her mother are sent to live in America at the start of a war while her father
Feb 12, 2015 Sooz rated it really liked it
this is the fourth book of hers that i have read and there seems to be a sharp division between the first two and the second. Gibb has become 'a serious writer'. her first two, Mouthing the Words, and the Petty Details of So and So's Life are personal stories. stories of an individual. simple and compelling stories, simply told. Sweetness in the Belly, and her most recent, The Beauty of Humanity are set in Ethiopia and Viet Nam respectively - in other words, foreign lands - and she takes on ...more
Shirley Schwartz
Aug 07, 2014 Shirley Schwartz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: my-5-star-reads
This is a truly wonderful book. It offers insight into life in Vietnam both before and after the communist movement took hold in the northern part of this country. The city that is at its epicenter is Hanoi. We get a first hand look at what life is like for the ordinary people as their country is brought under communist rule. Ms. Gibb uses beautiful language to develop her no holds barred look at how difficult life is for the people during the turmoil. The book is woven around the life of Old ...more
Aug 18, 2011 Misty rated it liked it
Shelves: first-read-copy
I received this book as a First Reads book winner, but I thought I had been forgotten due to the expanse of time it took for the book to reach me. But finally, it arrived!

I have to admit that I initially felt let down by cover art as it illustrates a scene of a Vietnamese male on a sampan. The title alone hints at the intellectual challenge that awaits the reader between the pages. Fortunately, while there is much that presents difficulty in it's explanation of the political history of Vietnam a
Athira (Reading on a Rainy Day)
The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a story about Vietnam - about one of its warring times that the United States had nothing to do with. In fact, the better-known US-Nam war is only mentioned in passing - almost because it actually happened, not because it had any connection to this story. Old Man Hung serves pho to his faithful customers every morning, although he doesn't have a license to operate a business nor does he have a decent location to set up shop. He keeps moving and sets up his stal ...more
Jan 01, 2012 Lori rated it it was amazing
Finished this book earlier today and it was fabulous; a very satisfying read. I loved Old Man Hung and everything he stood for: hard work, dedication, loyalty, resilience and an appreciation of the beauty in everything. I can't recall a more likable character in any of my last 10 reads at least. His commitment to the Pho he made every day despite all the obstacles he faced symbolized a lesson all of us need to learn: life is what you make of it and you need to continue to do what makes you ...more
Paul Lima
Apr 07, 2014 Paul Lima rated it it was amazing
What a wonderful book. Humanizes Vietnam. It could have turned into an anti-American rant, but it does not. It simply lets us know what this poor country has suffered through -- from the Chinese and French occupations, to the war(s), to communism. to the slow return to capitalism.... And it presents a lovable 80-year-old protagonist (a maker of pho, a Vietnamese breakfast soup) who has lived through most of it. He is surrounded by a solid supporting cast. There is a plot, but that is almost ...more
Absolutely beautiful.

I was stunned by this novel. As a Vietnamese Canadian, unfortunately I've never delved into Vietnam's past on my father's side of the family. After reading this, I have a newfound spark to discover more through books and first-person accounts of their experiences. And being in this situation, I sympathized with Maggie, who is on a journey to find out who her father was after their separation, but is labelled as an outside I've come to care about all the characters in this no
Jun 02, 2012 Joanne-in-Canada rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: book clubs
Recommended to Joanne-in-Canada by: Lynn Wilson
As someone too young to have understood the Vietnam War when it happened, I found this an engaging introduction to the history and culture of Vietnam. At first I was annoyed that author Camilla Gibb assumed I knew the basic geography of the country (such as where Hanoi and Saigon were), but that shortcoming was easily rectified on the internet. I also reviewed the major events in the country's history, which oriented me to the political climate during the different periods in the book.

After that
Karen Butler
Jun 16, 2012 Karen Butler rated it really liked it
How does a person who is not a native of Vietnam write so realistically about a nation, the way Amy Tan writes about China? I had to check the author bio to make sure I was not mistaken in thinking she was not from Vietnam. This is truly clever writing. The only thing that irked me slightly is the adulation and idolisation old man Hu'ung receives, even though he spurns the love of his life at an early age and in so doing makes her life a misery. This is depicted as principled behaviour but is it ...more
Mar 08, 2013 Ramona rated it liked it
I liked this book. It is set in present day Vietnam and touches on the history and conflict between the North and South.

The plot is about people living a difficult life in poverty. However they live with integrity and create a community of people that they can count on and who help each other. It is heartwarming to read about.

The book is intertwined with scenes, scents and foods of Hanoi. It brought me to a world that I was not that familiar with and really felt like I was there.
It is beautiful
Feb 06, 2013 BookSweetie rated it really liked it

This is not an American soldier war story. The awkwardly titled Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb is a novel that illumines Vietnamese social-cultural history and is set (mostly) in Hanoi featuring mostly Vietnamese characters.

I will never forget Old Man Hung who gives the novel its heart and one of literature's most vivid fictional characters.

Camilla Gibb recommends UNDERSTANDING VIETNAM by Neil Jamieson (1993) for readers interested in learning more about the history of Vietnam.
Aug 08, 2011 Esil rated it really liked it
This was a lovely book. The characters and the story are very rich. While this book is obviously based on Gibb's research about Vietnam rather than her own experience of Vietnam, it all worked very well. The characters were three dimensional and the story mixed the quirky personalities of the characters she created with a complex history and polictical context. And you cannot read this book without craving a good pho.
Dec 14, 2014 Amber rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this story about Old Man Hung and his pho! I don't know much about Vietnam or its history so this book was very eye opening and interesting. I almost felt like I was in Vietnam when reading it and it has made me add the country to my travel wish list.
Mar 15, 2015 Julia rated it it was amazing
An educational delight. Must have a bowl of pho for breakfast now.
Canadian author Camilla Gibb offers here a hopeful contemporary novel that reaches far back into the twentieth-century history of Vietnam. A young American woman, Vietnamese by birth, takes a job as an art curator in Hanoi so that she can explore her own history and find clues to the father she barely remembers. So many stories of Vietnam are heavily influenced by the Vietnam War as Americans understand it. This, however, is more about the Vietnamese people and how they lived during the war ...more
Dec 20, 2010 Beverly rated it really liked it
Rating = 3.5
Heading = From the Future to the Past to the Present

I had myriad of emotions while reading this heartfelt story. I was grateful to the author for writing a book which focused on the people of the northern part of Vietnam and their need to free themselves from the colonial presences and in the end retained a different yoke on their souls. I was sadden to once again be reminded that war damages people far longer than the conflict itself and is never-ending. I was amazed by the resilien
Oct 29, 2013 Nikki rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was reluctant to read this book at first. I had spent the summer reading a lot of chick lit, so this was a switch mid-genre. I'm glad that I opened it up! I love the characters in this book. The author does a fantastic job of portraying the difference between characters who share a cultural history and yet are culturally different themselves. As in the relationship between Maggie and Tu. Both share a Vietnamese background and cultural history, they are the same and different both at the same ...more
Dec 10, 2015 Eugene rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: goodbooks, 2015
Whew! A bow is drawn slowly across a violin and a single note plays through the air, then the bow begins to weave a tune that picks up tempo until one is swept up in the glorious music. Thus, this story begins as a softly paced tale, then picks up and develops depth and power that sweep one along with it. A marvellous novel!
In Hanoi, old man Hùng is an itinerant seller of phô from his rickety cart, but those who want the best always find him. Hùng had a phô shop in '50's Hanoi, but it was the me
Feb 03, 2013 Missy rated it it was amazing
Gibb reminds the reader of the harsh realities of rebuilding in the aftermath of war in her historically accurate novel. She carries the aroma of the country's traditional soup throughout the story of an American Vietnamese's search for the artwork of her father, an enemy of the Communist state who has disappeared. It is the story of a group of brave individuals upholding independent thought and freedom of expression in art and poetry during VietNam's Wars seeking independence.
Mar 28, 2015 ☕Laura rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: world-view
I really enjoyed this book. Although written by a non-Vietnamese author, it had an authentic feel, with welcome insight into the culture and history of Vietnam, a country I have not read much about. I was also very fond of the characters and wanted a happy ending for all of them. For someone who leans towards darker stories, there was a refreshing sweetness to this book without it feeling hokey. I'm so glad I chose to read this.
Jan 17, 2015 Risa rated it really liked it
A beautifully written book that takes place in Hanoi, with Old Man Hung, the main character telling about Vietnam over many years of suffering from the 1950's to 2007. It is a story told through food, mainly the phu that Hung continues to make from a young boy to an old man. It is a story of family and love (Old Man Hung's adopted family).

I highly recommend it!
Anne Heine
Oct 28, 2013 Anne Heine rated it really liked it
Beautiful bittersweet story of Vietnam's complicated history told through the memorable characters. I love a book like this that can let you in on a family for several generations and all their relationships.
My-linh Ma
Apr 15, 2013 My-linh Ma rated it it was amazing
Thank you Sajeda for giving me this wonderful book about self-discovery, about my culture and roots, about a young woman who journeys to Viet Nam, a journey not quite like mine, but somehow reflecting much of my experience in this beautiful country my parents call home.
Aug 25, 2016 Amber rated it really liked it
I read this book for an alumni book club event that I am leading at work. I enjoyed the pacing and the heart of this story. I also learned a lot about Vietnamese culture and history which is a nice added bonus.
Feb 24, 2016 Lisa rated it liked it
Interesting atmospheric on the traditions of life in Hanoi with a full set of characters who get mixed up in each other's lives, each with their own ingredient to bring to the soup, or the "pho" of life.
Feb 05, 2013 Tina rated it liked it
I've never read a book about Vietnam nor its people. I enjoyed the American perspective that the main character brought to the storyline. Overall, I liked it guite a lot, especially the literary and artistic themes.
Jan 19, 2011 Loraine rated it it was amazing
I'd give it six stars if I could. You are not waiting around for something to happen. Each paragraph is beautifully written. I loved the story, the history and the characters.
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What a wonderful book 1 7 Apr 07, 2014 11:33AM  
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From the author's web site:

"Camilla Gibb, born in 1968, is the author of three novels, Mouthing the Words, The Petty Details of So-and-so's Life and Sweetness in the Belly, as well as numerous short stories, articles and reviews.

She was the winner of the Trillium Book Award in 2006, a Scotiabank Giller Prize short list nominee in 2005, winner of the City of Toronto Book Award in 2000 and the reci
More about Camilla Gibb...

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“In tourism college they were taught that American notions of what constitutes a personal question are quite different from their own. Tư has learned this the hard way, through responses to questions like: And what do they pay you to be a pharmaceutical representative with GlaxoSmithKline, Mr. Clark? Is this lady your wife or your daughter? Do they have the death penalty in your state of Texas? Why are the insides of your ears so hairy?” 1 likes
“The history of Vietnam lies in this bowl, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that phở 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...” 1 likes
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