The Beauty of Humanity Movement
By Camilla Gibb
Atlantic Books – £12.99
Having had the pleasure of visiting Vietnam a couple of years back, I came away with a most profound sense of the country’s longing for acute alteration. Admittedly, I cannot speak for the country in its entirety, as my stay was predominantly in Ho Chi Minh City in the south; but one could almost touch the veritable undercurrent of change taking place. Nigh every walk of life was in transition and no-where was this more in evidence than amid the country’s younger generation.
A section of society, which, it goes without saying, is oft at the vanguard of crucial change and revolution; and to a certain, colourful degree, such a quintessential tsunami of reconstruction has been captured throughout the pages of Camilla Gibb’s The Beauty of Humanity Movement.
As the title implies, Vietnam’s perpetual change stands at a tenacious crossroads of where east meets west and young meets old – as authoress Gibb writes in the second chapter ‘A Seam Between Worlds’: ‘’Maggie found herself in a world of teenagers, a generation fuelled by hopes and hormones, people who had no interest in being dragged back to the past. They face forward, the future, the West. The past is abandoned: the pain of it, perhaps; the shame of it.’’
Herein lies the key: the shackles of shame, for a menagerie of whatever undeserving reasons, are still unfortunately unremitting throughout Vietnam. Set in the country’s capital city of Hanoi in the north, it must be said the book could just as well have been set anywhere in the country. For the same ‘pain’ and ‘shame’ and lingering doubts of yesteryear, still persist throughout this beautiful ‘’stolen country with recurring images of weeping mothers and flowers blooming without scent.’’
In fact, it’s said the history of Vietnam can be found in a bowl of pho, and Old Man Hu’ng invariably makes the best in all of Hanoi. Arising at dawn each day to leave his shantytown home for said sleeping city, he assembles his transient kitchen and knowingly starts cooking. One day, Maggie Ly patiently makes her way towards his cart, triggering a friendship of almost divine, historical intervention.
That said, it’s a friendship the reader instinctively knows (very early on), will lead to an all conclusive, happy ending – replete with laughter, sunshine and a fistful of ticked-boxes and full-stops. In a way, this is the book’s only downside, which is a little hard to put into words but there you go. Indeed, there’s a certain ambiguity about The Beauty of Humanity Movement that works when it ought not, and of course, doesn’t when it really ought. This is in particular evidence mid-way through in the chapter ‘Whole Fruit’: ‘’Somehow it was only after the shock of the devastation of that winter bombing that the fear really set in. Hu’ng held his breath, listened for the drone of another wave of bombers. He prayed for an end to the war, prayed for the mercy of a God who was said to no longer exist.’’ On the whole, a pleasant enough read, but given the book’s (potentially dense) subject matter and utterly alluring title, I found its conclusion a tad disappointing if not a little saccharine.