March 22, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In her novel The Beauty of Humanity Movement, Camilla Gibb brilliantly paints a portrait of Vietnam's past and present through the life of a pho vendor. Old Man Hung has seen years of war and peace, occupation and self-government, and his life is a glimpse at a Vietnam seldom seen in this evocative story of lost love.
Seattlest wrote of the book:
"Movement's most fascinating moment is its revelation of how little we actually know about Vietnam. From an American perspective many of us simply associate it with death and war, though in Movement we finally realize a complex country tremendously influenced and scarred by other countries before us. Vietnam emerges as country that has endured incredible strife yet looks optimistically into the future."
One of the larger questions I was asking in writing The Beauty of Humanity Movement, a novel set in Hanoi, was how do artists today – visual artists, writers and musicians – create in a climate that has not encouraged individual expression. Even if restrictions on artistic creation are eased as a country like Vietnam embraces capitalism, where do you look to for inspiration if individual expression has been suppressed for the past 2-3 generations?
The short answer is you either look back to a time in your country's history when people were freer to express themselves artistically, or you look beyond your own borders. It becomes easier to do the latter when you discover how much of your country's past has been censored and erased. And it becomes obvious when you're young and internet savvy.
Phuong, the best friend of one of the main characters in the book, is a Hanoi hipster with both musical ambition and talent. He's a classical dan bau player, a teacher of high school students who lack any particular motivation and an aspiring rap artist. He dreams of winning Vietnam Idol – cheating the censors with an acceptable performance before busting out with some anti-Communist rap once he has the stage.
In truth, not a lot of Vietnamese rap is political, and the whole genre takes a regular bashing by a lot of Vietnamese who think it's a ridiculous appropriation. Still, I had some fun on YouTube and vietrapper.com doing "research."
Kim Jo Jo is a hip-hop artist featured in both Vietnamese and English on the rather goofy, spoof-like and fun video, "Hanoi Hustle." I have no idea who this cat Tin Tin is, but he cracks me up.
Because I'd created a character who plays a classical Vietnamese instrument, the dan bau, I thought I'd better hear what it sounded like. It's a single-stringed plucked instrument, traditionally used for folk and love songs and as an accompaniment for poetry readings, though has now been adapted for use in Asian pop and rock. Pham Duc Thanh is a master, currently living in Montreal. A couple of tracks from his traditional dan bau CD stand out for me - "Fishing" and "The Moving Cloud," both of which evoke something of an older, more traditional Vietnam. I listened to these tracks when I was trying to write about village life in the 1950s.
I also listened to a host of soundtracks of movies set in Vietnam – Indochine, Three Seasons, The Quiet American – but abandoned them all after listening to Gabriel Yared's soundtrack for The Lover. None of these soundtracks are by Vietnamese composers – all of the films are about outsiders in Vietnam – but Yared's soundtrack is perhaps the one that professes to be nothing other than the music of the French colonial era. It's honest in that regard, where the others are more clearly manipulative. A good example is the track ''Blue Zoon.''
And if you are in the mood to be manipulated by a lush, filmic, haunting Vietnamesesque piece? Richard Horowitz's "Dhuong VI…The Red Blindfold," from Three Seasons, will make you weep.
There is one piece of Western music referenced in my novel, albeit as something of a joke. One of the main characters compares a Vietnamese ballad, saying it is better than the theme from Titanic sung by Celine Dion. ''My Heart Must Go On.'' It was my nod to Canadian content.
Phuong and his best friend Tu' enjoy a night of drunken karaoke once in a while. I'd like to see them have an earnest, air-punching go at Pink Floyd's ''The Wall,'' and when they were drunk enough, Wham's ''Wake Me Up Before You Go Go,'' dressing the part, of course, in tight white shorts.
Camilla Gibb and The Beauty of Humanity Movement links:
Britty Books review
Compulsive Overreader review
For Books' Sake review
Globe and Mail review
Library Journal review
Los Angeles Times review
Lotus Reads review
National Post review
Pickle Me This review
Quill & Quire review
Reading on a Rainy Day review
Reeder Reads review
Serendipitous Readings review
The Walrus review
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists