Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb

Title: The Beauty of Humanity Movement
Author: Camilla Gibb

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Contemporary / Vietnam)
Publisher/Publication Date: The Penguin Press (March 17, 2011)
Source: TLC Book Tours

Rating: Big ole swoony love.
Did I finish?: Yes -- in one sitting. I couldn't stop.
One-sentence summary: Three lives unfold around an soup seller in Vietnam.
Reading Challenges:  Historical Fiction, South Asian

Do I like the cover?: Yes, but -- in the novel, there's a discussion about how the pastoral art featuring Vietnamese countrysides really whitewashes what modern Vietnam is like -- so it seems like a missed opportunity by not featuring something more urban.

I'm reminded of...: Diana Abu-Jaber, Anne Carson, Barbara Kingsolver, Jhumpa Lahiri

First line: Old Man H'ung makes the best pho in the city and has done so for decades.

Did...I read this in five hours flat?: YES.  I started it Sunday morning and finished it by Sunday evening, pausing only to meditate on a line or read a passage to my wife.

Did...I grow kind of desperate for pho while reading this novel?: YES.  Find a local Vietnamese restaurant when you start so you can savor the broth and noodles, too!

Why did I get this book?: Ever since Graham Green's The Quiet American, I've been interested in '50s Vietnam and I'm a sucker for food as character.

Review:  The best books are those that can take a topic or plot that is alien to you and yet make you feel yourself in the story.  Initially I wasn't swooning with excitement about this book -- interested, yes, but nothing fancier than that -- and yet, by the second chapter, I was captivated.  

I often found myself stopping to read passages to my wife so we could both savor the lovely language or interesting insight about Vietnam.  There's a prose-poem feel at times -- the contemporary sections are in present tense, the revolutionary sections in past tense -- but the writing isn't obtuse or florid or aloof.  I loved all the characters and cared about each story.  The novel moves back and forth between the present (2007ish, I believe) and the past (1950s and '60s) seamlessly, and like Hung's delicately flavored broths, the story reveals more and more in delicious, tasty layers.

Don't let an unfamiliarity with Vietnam dissuade you from reading this book: ultimately, all you need to know is presented in the story.  The conflicts and joys shared by the characters are easy to relate to and emphasize with and the historical events are given enough context to be meaningful.  I found it impossible not to be sucked into this lovely, evocative, moving novel.


GIVEAWAY!  I'm giving away my very gently used copy of The Beauty of Humanity Movement!  To enter, leave a comment and an email address.

For another entry, please stop by on Monday for my Q and A with the author, Camilla Gibb and leave a comment there.  Open to US and international readers! Contest ends April 9.  UPDATE: The publisher is offering a copy as well, so I've got an additional copy to give to US/CA readers! 

For other reviews, check out the rest of the blogs on the tour.


  1. I love the sound of this Audra. Nice review.

  2. A one-sitting read? I must pick it up off my shelf to read. (No need to enter me; I already have it!)

  3. Diane & Carrie - It was an unexpectedly lovely book. I didn't know what I was getting into and I just got sucked in!

  4. Your enthusiasm for this book really inspires me, and along with the fact that I have been reading so many amazing reviews of this book, I am definitely sure I need to read it. You read it all in one sitting as well?? So, so impressed, both of you and the book that held you captive. I would love to be entered in your giveaway!


  5. Wow, that is quite a glowing review -- I love stories with food as a main ingredient (sorry for the pun), and I like narrations that switch back and forth in time, provided, as you say here, the author does it seamlessly.
    This is definitely one I want to check out.

  6. You present a slightly different approach to book reviews, a more personal approach, and I like it. Sounds like The Beauty of Humanity Movement is a good read, especially if you read it in 5 hours! Enter me in the contest, please.

  7. Immediately when I saw this in my RSS feed, it captured my attention because I recognized the front cover from Halong Bay. I visited Vietnam three summers ago and LOVED it. Plus Halong Bay is beautiful.

    Most importantly, though, you've really got me interested in reading this book! My email is eatthebooks [at] gmail [dot] com. Thanks!

  8. Ok, first I see this: "Did I finish?: Yes -- in one sitting. I couldn't stop." And then you compare this to Barbara Kingsolver and Jhumpa Lahiri, and you've got my complete attention. I cannot wait to check out this book!

    Thanks so much for being on the tour. I'm glad you discovered such a fantastic book.

  9. I definitely have to check this one out now, your enthusiasm for it is so great! :) Anytime someone loves a book so much that they actually can't put it down and read it all in one sitting, I take note. I'd love to win a copy, so thank you for hosting this giveaway!

    jmartinez0415 [at] gmail [dot] com

  10. My unfamiliarity of Vietnam is exactly the reason I want to read this book! This book sounds wonderful. kathy(at)

  11. Would love to visit Viet Nam some time. All that I know is from a friend that I lost touch with and another friend's trip there. Would really love to read this book.


  12. @Eatthebooks: I'm impressed you recognize the landscape -- and that does make me like the cover even more! It is really so lovely -- on heavy, textured paper in matte colors -- gorgeous!

  13. Sounds lovely. and yummy in regards to the food references ;-D
    vvb32 at

  14. I actually passed on this one but it looks like I made a mistake. Alas, there are only so many hours in the day.

  15. I'd love to read this book!

    aikychien at yahoo dot com

  16. @all: Thrilled to say the publisher is offering a copy as well, so now I've got a copy for international folks and one for US/CA readers!

  17. This book sounds great! I recently read The Lotus Eaters, a book about 1960s Vietnam, and I'd really like to read more about prewar Vietnam - count me in for the giveaway! Thanks.

    Melody -

  18. This sounds like just the kind of book I love - thanks for the lovely review! I'd love to be entered to win (I'm in the U.S.)

    caribousmom (at) gmail (dot) com

  19. There's nothing like a novel that is so engaging it does so for a whole sitting. Not that I can remember the last time I did that! :)

    Ooh, sign me up for the give-away then.


  20. Thanks for the giveaway! It looks like a very interesting book.

    susanna dot pyatt at student dot rcsnc dot org

  21. Wow - I seldom get to read anything substantial in just one sitting (I did read Diary of a Wimpy Kid the other night, though!). I've read several other positive reviews of this book and since I'm currently reading a lot of Southeast Asian authors, I'm particulary intrigued. Thanks for offering up your copy for giveaway.

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  22. I love reading a novel that transports me to a different place and time. Happy to hear this is good.

  23. Sounds fascinating.