I was so moved by The Beauty of Humanity Movement and it’s author, Camilla Gibb.
As I got onto Amazon months ago to purchase this year’s Reading Across Rhode Island book selection, I gasped aloud as I saw the cover image. Artwork of a Vietnamese woman standing in a boat peered out at me.
I attended the May 3rd breakfast with some members of my book club, Reading Between the Wines, and I brought my Mom.
Last year, my mother and I spent an amazing 20 days in Vietnam and it is a place that is now a part of me. Wherever I go, I hold that place dear and take a piece of it with me, but there is something different about Vietnam. Some stronger hold that country has held on me. It felt like serendipity that this year’s book was about Vietnam – I couldn’t wait to read it.
As I savored this story and its rich imagery, the tastes and smells of Hanoi pulled me back to the other side of the world. I craved a bowl of pho and felt a special connection to the characters and even to the author. I was intrigued to learn her story and how she came to write about Vietnam since she is Canadian. It seemed that Vietnam had captured her spirit as it had mine.
I had the privilege of meeting Camilla Gibb at the May Reading Across Rhode Island breakfast hosted by Rhode Island Center for the Book. Her story brought many of the 450 attendees to tears. Even Robin Kall, host of Reading With Robin, had to wipe her eyes before getting on stage to moderate audience questions for the author. If you ever have the opportunity to hear Camilla Gibb speak about how she came to be a writer and it’s full circle, pay-it-forward, no strings attached details, don’t pass it up!
At the breakfast, Camilla spoke of “Love in absence” in The Beauty of Humanity Movement. She wrote about Old Man Hung and realized she didn’t know him well enough; she didn’t know about the love in his life. So she wove Lan into the story. Theirs is a poetic and intimate relationship even as it not allowed to be fully experienced.
I felt a fondness for the young tour guide, Tu, who reminded me of our tour guide and the personal stories he shared.
“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 Hung’s Uncle Chien explained to him long ago.
‘We’re 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.'” – The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb
As a writer, I appreciated how Camilla spoke of serving her characters and going where they need to go. Instead of historical fiction, she examines how her characters would be influenced by the history around him or her. Without revealing anything, she knew Old Man Hung would need to return to his village, she didn’t want to go there, but because he had to, she had to make the journey.Camilla Gibb has written three other novels: Mouthing the Words,The Petty Details of So-and-so’s Life, and Sweetness in the Belly.
The Beauty of Humanity Movement took me back to Hanoi both now and then. It contrasts the current culture of Vietnamese art with the historical artistic movement of earlier days. Today’s Vietnamese art for exportation as compared with a creative culture that spoke out against the Communist Party and expressed authentic emotions and convictions. She explores and unveils a hidden world.
Take a trip to the Old Quarter, take a taste of pho, glimpse into another culture – voyage into The Beauty of Humanity Movement.