As a history told through food, this is very good; as a novel, it lacks a little savor.



London born, Toronto-based novelist Gibb (Sweetness in the Belly, 2006, etc.) focuses her latest novel on a group of dissident 1950s artists and what the ruthless regime did to them.

In Vietnam, food and revolution have always entwined; even Ho Chi Minh was a pastry chef in Paris before he came home and eventually seized control of the fledgling nation. So it's fitting that this novel features at its center the delicious beef noodle soup called pho. The pivotal figure here is Hu'ng, an octogenarian in failing health who's still selling his old-recipe pho to a group of fanatically dedicated customers, but now in an itinerant way, dodging cops as he works from a battered cart. A half-century earlier, when Hu'ng still had his cafe, it became the hangout of a group of artists and intellectuals that Gibb, embroidering on the real story of a similar group, calls the Beauty of Humanity Movement. Enter a young Vietnamese-American woman, Maggie Ly, who left with her mother just before Saigon fell, and whose father they had to leave behind, presumably to a quick death. Maggie grew up in Minnesota, and she's returned—as curator of a luxury hotel's vast collection of indigenous art—largely to see if she can find out anything about her father, an American-educated artist who before her birth was tortured and maimed by the government, and who turns out to have been part of the Beauty of Humanity intellectuals. The other crucial figure, a bridge between young "foreigner" and old cook, is a tour guide named Tu' who has, with his father, been one of Hu'ng's most faithful customers. Gibb provides extravagantly sensuous accounts of the food. But her style tends to the sentimental and overripe, and the characters never quite come alive in the way the setting does.

As a history told through food, this is very good; as a novel, it lacks a little savor. 

Pub Date: March 21, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-59420-280-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 2, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2010

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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