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The Beauty of Humanity Movement

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  4,059 ratings  ·  539 reviews
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
Hardcover, 297 pages
Published August 17th 2010 by Doubleday Canada (first published April 6th 2010)
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Diana Suddreth I think this would be a very interesting book club discussion. You have characters of multiple ages, each dealing with Vietnam in different ways. You …moreI think this would be a very interesting book club discussion. You have characters of multiple ages, each dealing with Vietnam in different ways. You have the historical impact of the war and its enduring impact on the people. You have the economics of moving through wartime, to communism, and towards capitalism. There are multiple family relationships. There is the idealism of the war years and the reality of re-education. It wouldn't be hard at all to craft questions that would be worth at least an hour of conversation.(less)

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Friederike Knabe
Jun 04, 2010 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 i ...more
Jul 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
"Subjectivity is a dangerous business: the government certainly doesnt envourage anyone to have an independent opinion. But has he not just put his hand in subjectivity's fire? Does he see loneliness where she sees hope?"

Gibb's novel stars a threesome of incredibly well-rounded characters--their interactions seem fated & original (which could be an oxymoron, I suppose). They are so special as to almost take away from the central theme: the deliciousness of life. The taste of food which is a
Nov 30, 2010 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 redeem ...more
Book Concierge
The novel focuses on a group of residents of Hanoi. Hung is an elderly pho merchant, moving his portable kitchen cart from location to location, but maintaining a loyal following. Tu is a young tour guide leading tourists, including American Vietnam Vets, through the city. He and his father, Binh, try to watch out for the old man. Maggie is Vietnamese by birth but raised in America. She has come to Hanoi as an art curator for a major luxury hotel; but her real purpose is to seek out clues as to ...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
Stephanie Anze
Aug 08, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"A bowl of pho can offer critical sustenance and a reason to get up in the morning, even in the most troubling of times."

Maggie Ly is Vietnamese by birth but American raised. Being hunted by her lack of knowledge of what happened to her father in Vietnam, Maggie travels to Hanoi in hopes of learning about him. Her father was an artist during the war and trouble in the country was far from over. He sent Maggie and her mother to the United States but did not make out himself. Her journey leads her
Dec 04, 2016 rated it liked it
A tour of modern Vietnam that is still trying to shake off its murky past of Communist suppression.

The story centres around Hung, creator of the most delicious pho (noodle soup) in the country. The Pho is also a central character in this book and a metaphor that art can be created from the heart and from nature and is not dependent on technology. Hung makes it from virtually nothing , by delving deep into the land and water to find scraps that can be combined to create a broth that melts the har
Julie Christine
This novel offers quiet satisfaction. There is nothing awesome or monumental about the plot or Gibb's writing. It is an engaging story written with care and honesty, without pandering to bestseller lists or in search of a specific audience.

Beauty, set in contemporary Hanoi, offers a fresh perspective on well-worn themes: the search for cultural identity and the meaning of "home." Gibb weaves together three narratives: Maggie Ly, a Vietnamese-American curator searching for information about her d
Oct 16, 2010 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 poli ...more
Shirley Schwartz
Jan 01, 2012 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 Ma ...more
Aug 18, 2011 rated it liked it
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 its explanation of the political history of Vietnam an
Jan 29, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: asian
I enjoyed this a lot more than I thought I would. I now know something about Vietnam, which is a vast improvement on the minuscule knowledge I had before. The historical events presented in this book show how complicated culture and politics are, and yet it was easy to understand. I also really enjoyed the intergenerational discussions on identity and one's place in the world. For being an easy read, this book made me ponder many things, which is always a good sign. I'm interested in reading Gib ...more
Jul 24, 2011 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. ...more

What is art if...we can no longer use it to comment independently on the state of the world? p129

Recorded history routinely can be erroneous, distorted, misinterpreted, rewritten or lost, perhaps sometimes all of those things. More reliable to trace the life history of an individual, including their origins and offspring. The events of the times stand out in their impact on the generations that, each in their turn, struggle for dominance.

This has been a common practice since mythologies elevate
Dec 10, 2011 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 happy ...more
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
Dorie  - Cats&Books :)
This is a powerful little book. A young woman, Maggie, raised in the US but Vietnamese by birth has come to Hanoi in search of her past. Her father, a dissident artist, became separated from Maggie and her mother during the war. She now seeks clues to his fate at a pho (soup) stand in the outskirts of the city.

She meets the intriguing and intelligent Old Man Hung whose shop was once a hub for artists before the war. She meets his grandson, Tu, now a tourist guide who leads war tours through the
Paul Lima
Mar 29, 2014 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 seco ...more
I think this will be a hard book to review, but I loved it. I know very little about Vietnam history, aside from our part in the war.

There are 3 main characters, each was wonderful to meet. Maggie, Vietnam born but raised in America who has come to find out about who her father was.
Tu, a young Viet man, loving the "ways" of American products but yet still loving the old ways & culture of his country.
Hung, an old man with a pho cart, we learn the most from him as his story goes back & forth ove
Ali Cooper
Jul 03, 2020 rated it it was amazing
So beautifully written, I could picture the streets of Hanoi and smell the food Camilla Gibb writes of. The story is equally as powerful. This book has certainly become a favourite !!
Feb 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 31, 2011 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 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
Feb 04, 2013 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.
Mar 08, 2013 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
Sep 19, 2014 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. ...more
Dec 07, 2014 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. ...more
Feb 11, 2015 rated it it was amazing
An educational delight. Must have a bowl of pho for breakfast now.
Feb 04, 2020 rated it it was amazing
It only took me 4 days to read this book because I simply could not put it down. This novel is a tear wrenching but beautiful story that connects Vietnam’s past to its present through 4 generations of people who have lived very different lives. Set in Hanoi, you will be enchanted by the altruism of Mr. Hung, the major character, pho soup, and also learn more about Vietnam’s not so distant past and how people suffered during the war.
Diana Suddreth
Jan 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I love a book that brings the reader to greater appreciation of another culture through character, story, and beautiful writing. The Beauty of Humanity Movement is such a treat! I picked up the book to gain some understanding of modern day Vietnam before travel and loved the way the characters were treated with such respect as they battled their challenges in Hanoi. The three main characters, a pho seller, a art curator, and a tour operator, were all so likeable that I looked forward to spending ...more
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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

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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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