I love Pho’, Vietnamese noodle soup. I mean, I really love it. One of the major downsides of living in Edinburgh is that I haven’t found a good, cheap pho’ place that hits the spot. While I was down in London I was lucky enough to stumble upon Pho Cafe in Soho and it gave me the strength to wade into The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.
Why did I need to fortify myself with pho’ to read this you ask? The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a lot of things, including an ode to pho’. The story centers on Hung, an itinerant pho maker in Hanoi. Everyday people seek him out with their bowls poised to take in the delicate aroma of his broth. But Hung also holds the secrets to Hanoi’s controversial past. The writers and artists who were persecuted and often sent away for retraining once frequented his shop. Maggie, a Vietnamese-American seeks Hung out to uncover part of her father’s life which she knew nothing about.
Gibb’s writing, as always, is poetic and evocative. She tends to write about far away places, which is something I enjoy. What is truly remarkable about The Beauty of Humanity Movement is the way in which she captures the essence of Vietnamese street culture. She is not writing about the elite, but instead of people who work hard and suffer. In other words, she very realistically captures a world about she has very little first hand experience.
Who would like this book? Gibb is a Canadian writer and as such has many Canadian fans. Some were put off by the controversial subject of female genital mutilation dealt with in her previous book Sweetness in the Belly. It is safe to say that The Beauty of Humanity Movement trends on much less controversial ground while still bringing to light the struggles of the Vietnamese population twenty five years after the end of the Vietnam conflict. And of course, it is a must read for anyone heading to Vietnam or obsessed with pho’.
This book was read as one of my selections for the TBR List Challenge hosted by Roof Beam Reader.
This is less a comment on the book and more of a confession. I do not like Canadian authors. There are exceptions (The Birth House by Ami McKay comes to mind, LM Montgomery obviously)but in general, CanLit does not do it for me. I should probably have to surrender my passport.
I’m very jealous that you get to live in Edinburgh. Went there last spring and ever since my fiance and I have been trying to figure out a way to go back and stay there.
Um. I’m speechless. The next time I’m in Canada I’m going to hunt you down and throw (good) Can Lit at you. I’m going to study your blog good and hard and come up with some suggestions for you and YOU WILL LIKE IT.
Er, back to the book… yes agreed it is lyrical and captures the feel of Vietnam that perhaps tourists don’t always get to see. Perhaps a little slow for my personal taste but GREAT if you are going to Vietnam and want just an extra perspective.
Sounds like an excellent read – I’ve been thinking a lot about authors taking on subject matter about which they know very little and just making it a human story. I’m glad to hear Gibb pulled it off well. I’m also glad to hear you’ll be throwing some good CanLit at the Paperback Princess – I was so sad to hear she hadn’t found many that she liked 🙂 -Tania
I loved this book while I am not particularly interested in Vietnam and never had pho’. How about that? I think it’s well-written and a subject I don’t know about. It drew me in.
I love pho, so I will check this book out. Thank you for writing about it!
I haven’t read many books by Canadian authors and the few books I have read haven’t felt distinctly different from something written by an American author. From what I’ve read on other blogs though, it does sound like Canadian literature has a unique feel, so I’d like to give it more of a try. The two books by Canadian authors which I’ve read this year have been a YA book and a memoir, so perhaps adult fiction is the way to go.
This book in particular sounds like a great way to learn something new. I love that it covers a part of history in a part of the world I know a little about.
If you ever want some CanLit suggestions i can give them. I must admit in the recent past CanLit has been rather American feeling, but in the hey day 1970s and 80 i think it was more distinct.
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I loved Sweetness in the Belly! I’m happy to hear this one is good, too. Someday I will get to it. I also like reading about other places, through fiction.
I can’t decide if i liked Sweetness in the Belly or The Beauty of Humanity Mov’t better. I just love Gibb’s writing. Very unpretentious. And yes, i love travelling through my reading.
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