The Beauty of Humanity Movement

This story of pho and family (320 pages) was published in March of 2011 by Penguin Press. The book takes you to modern Vietnam. Melissa read The Beauty of Humanity Movement and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.

buy is an online bookstore with a mission to financially support independent bookstores and give back to the book community.


The Beauty of Humanity Movement

Camilla Gibb

This lovely story of found family features four main characters who will steal your heart: a much-beloved soup maker, his dear young friend, a sassy young woman of Vietnamese-American heritage, and the quintessential Vietnamese comfort food known as pho.

The action begins in 2007 Hanoi, but you can’t understand modern Vietnam without reflecting on the past, so plot threads bind this story to the numerous wars that marked the 20th century.

The beating heart of the novel is Old Man Hung. He’s an adored and respected soup maker, and his pho is legendary. His broth, the noodles, the perfectly-cooked beef; people depend on a bowl of his pho (and the associated news and gossip sharing) to start their day.

But we soon learn that there’s more to Old Man Hung than his magical potion. His present days are taken up with dragging his humble soup cart around Hanoi, searching for a safe location to set up. But back in the day, his soup shop was the meeting place for intellectuals, writers, and artists. And though these dissidents are long gone — they’ve been missing or dead for decades — Hung’s past relationships with them may hold the answer to questions being asked now.

Those questions come in the form of Maggie, a Vietnamese-American art curator eager to solve the mystery of what happened to her artist father, and Tu, a 20-something math genius trying to better understand himself and his country’s history.

This type of story could easily tip over into too twee or sentimental. Instead, it’s a bracing tale about ordinary, extraordinary people — whom you want to get to know — bumbling their way to really knowing themselves and others. It’s a story of perspective and forgiveness, acceptance and hope.

There’s a romance (happily, not the one you might expect) and adventure, the revelation of painful truths, poetry and art, and a recognition of the power of a bowl of pho. It’s more than soup. It’s a representation of everything that’s valued by Hung and the Vietnamese culture: dignity and attention to detail, a connection to the past, the importance of community, and the courage to care for the people around you.

The history of Vietnam lies in this bowl, for it is in Hanoi, the Vietnamese heart, that pho 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, as Hng’s Uncle Chin explained to him long ago. ‘We’re a clever people,’ his uncle had said. ‘We took the best the occupiers had to offer and made it our own. Fish sauce is the key — in matters of soup and well beyond. Even romance, some people say.’ — Camilla Gibb

keep reading

Warning: This show is going to inspire you to book tickets to Vietnam as soon as possible. Who could resist its stunning natural beauty, vibrant street food, fascinating history, and warm, friendly people? No one.
The VAC Library in Hanoi is a unique open-air structure that invites play along with learning. Solar-powered and self-sustaining, it's a modern (beautiful) example of how libraries can interact with the environment.
Pho is Vietnam's national dish, a comforting bowl of spice-infused broth, rice noodles, beef, and fresh herbs that tastes like love. We recommend you simmer a pot of broth and take a virtual trip to Hanoi, Vietnam.
Treat yourself to some travel inspiration and explore Vietnam. From oh-so-green rice paddies to energetic cityscapes, these vibrant images of scenery and people will fire up your imagination and your wanderlust.

sharing is caring!

Wanna help us spread the word? If you like this page, please share with your friends.

our mission

Strong Sense of Place is a website and podcast dedicated to literary travel and books we love. Reading good books increases empathy. Empathy is good for all of us and the amazing world we inhabit.

our patreon

Strong Sense of Place is a listener-supported podcast. If you like the work we do, you can help make it happen by joining our Patreon! That'll unlock bonus content for you, too — including Mel's secret book reviews and Dave's behind-the-scenes notes for the latest Two Truths and a Lie.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.

This is a weekly email. If you'd like a quick alert whenever we update our blog, subscribe here.

no spoilers. ever.

We'll share enough detail to help you decide if a book is for you, but we'll never ruin plot twists or give away the ending.

super-cool reading fun
reading atlas

This 30-page Reading Atlas takes you around the world with dozens of excellent books and gorgeous travel photos. Get your free copy when you subscribe to our newsletter.

get our newsletter
We'll never share your email with anyone else. Promise.
follow us

Content on this site is ©2024 by Smudge Publishing, unless otherwise noted. Peace be with you, person who reads the small type.