The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Published by The Penguin Press
Like the making of good pho (Vietnamese noodle soup), The Beauty of Humanity Movement requires patience. But your patience will be rewarded…like good pho, this book is satisfying and complex and full of flavor. Okay, I’m basing that statement on the reactions of the characters who slurped their way through bowl after bowl of pho, as I’ve never actually eaten it myself (and after reading this book, it practically feels like blasphemy to say that). And sorry if that’s a cheesy analogy, but pho is so central to this story that it’s impossible not to bring it up.
On the surface, this is a story about a young woman who returns to Vietnam to discover her father’s past. Maggie’s father was a Vietnamese artist, killed in a reeducation camp. As she searches for information about him, she befriends Tu’, a young tour guide, and Hung, an elderly pho seller. As the trio searches both for information and to remember, a small piece of Vietnam’s history and culture is brought to life. We see a modern Vietnam struggling to come to terms with both its past and its present, and we see the post-war Vietnam, with all of its hardships and efforts to exert political dominance over practically all aspects of an individual’s life.
Food and art are central to the story, and they’re what made this story so fascinating for me. Pho is described often (heck, it’s practically a character), and in loving detail. In the late 1970′s and 1980′s (I think that’s the right time period), Hung’s pho shop was a meeting place for the Beauty of Humanity Movement, a group of dissident artists and writers. The fictional group is used to illustrate both the resistance to and the brutality of the communist regime.
The best way I can describe this book is as a beautiful fictional ethnography…Gibb is a trained social anthropologist, and this book is a fascinating look into just a small piece of both Vietnam’s past and it’s culture. I loved The Beauty of Humanity Movement…it may not be full of action, but it is full of the historical and cultural details that I love to see in a book.
I read this as part of a TLC tour (thank you to Trish and Penguin!)…be sure to stop by and see what everyone else has to say:
- Wednesday, March 16th: Reading on a Rainy Day
- Thursday, March 18th: Reading Through Life
- 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