The Lotus Eaters

From the first, I had a feeling I would like this novel.  The thought of a woman photographer, documenting the Vietnam War, was intriguing.  What kind of woman would put her life at such risk?  And why?  Would she been strong, fearless, inquisitive or just plain crazy?   The possibilities are endless and fascinating.  I had to read it.

The book doesn’t hesitate but jumps right into the war.  The North Vietnamese are ready to invade Saigon.  It’s a hot day, a dry and stagnant day, and two lovers Helen, the American female combat photographer, and Linh, a Vietnamese man, make their way through the scary streets of town to get to the American embassy and their ticket out of Vietnam. Linh has been injured by a stray bullet and desperately needs medical attention.   Helen is torn between her desire to make sure Linh is safe and wanting to stay, to be the last one (one as in photographer) there, to take that last important picture.  She wants to be the “Last American Woman Reporter in Vietnam.”  She is clearly addicted to the war, to the fear, the excitement, the pure adrenaline rush that covering the war brings her.  She knows it and Linh knows it.  Yet both are surprised when she puts Linh on the helicopter out of Saigon, without her on it.  She wants to see the end of this, her adopted country, that she has come to love as her own.

“She had not imagined herself outliving this war.  The country deep inside of her idea of who she was, she would tear out a part of herself in leaving it.”

One of the things I liked best was how Soli portrays both sides of the conflict, the American and the Vietnamese.  Linh was a solider before he met Helen, first in the Northern Army, then after he escapes to the South, the Southern Army.  He had been married, with a child on the way.   He wasn’t a very good solider; he was very reluctant.  The day he meets Sam Darrow is the day his family is killed in the bombing.  He was only half an hour away.   So he leaves the army.  He makes his way to Saigon, where he eventually meets Sam Darrow.  Sam Darrow is also a photographer documenting the war and the country and the third piece to the love story.   He was once Helen’s love and greatest competitor and he was Linh’s mentor and friend when he needed one most.

There is so much to like about this book.  Everyone loves a good love triangle, but Soli also has so much to say about war, about culture, about government and about news and the way it’s reported.  People will go to scary lengths to ‘get the story’.   The writing is very good; I liked the way the passages almost feel like snapshots, some as brief as one paragraph.  The characters are interesting and the ‘dive right on in there’ beginning gets the reader invested in them pretty quickly.  And in the end you learn just what kind of woman Helen is.   I learned a lot about the Vietnam War, which I also liked.  All in all, this is a great read. I like the way the back cover puts it best:

Tatjana Soli paints a searing portrait of an American woman’s struggle and triumph in Vietnam, a stirring canvas contrasting the wrenching horror of war and the treacherous narcotic of obsession with the redemptive power of love. Readers will be transfixed by this stunning novel of passion, duty and ambition among the ruins of war.

The Lotus Eaters
Author: by Tatjana Soli
Category: Historical Fiction, Vietnam War
Published by: St. Martin’s Press
Format: Hardcover 400 pages
On Sale: March 2010
ISBN: 9780312611576

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10 thoughts on “The Lotus Eaters

  1. I do know a little about the Vietnam War because I'm older than you and I've read a few military books about it. This book sounds like it will cover an aspect that I know little about and I'm really anxious to read it.

  2. Great review! Thanks!

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