The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

St Martins Griffin, New York, 2010

From my TBR shelf.  Earlier in the year I read about this novel on many of my favorite blogs.

In the fall of 1965 Helen Adams arrived in Vietnam trying to find out about the death of her brother Michael and a desire to break out of her normal life.

    ” My brother wrote me a letter before he was killed.  He said no matter what happened he couldn’t regret coming.  I needed to see for myself.  And the only way to become famous is to cover combat, right?  I dropped out because I was worried it would be over by the time I graduated.”  From pages 86/87.

Drawn into the excitement and chaos of  war and attracted to combat photographer Sam Darrow, Helen stays, learns to take photographs and discovers an obsession she had no idea she was carrying.

This book surprised me.  I find it is hard to believe it is Tatjana Soli’s first novel.

When I first started reading it I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would this be a story that revolved around the covert and overt attractions between three photographers?  Would it be a blood and guts war story?  What I found was a tightly woven novel that brought the “American war” to me  in a way that connects it to the land and its people.  It is beautiful and appalling and after reading a few pages I found it hard to put down.

All I can do now is include a few passages and hope they seduce you, cause you to pick up and read this book.

She rode out with the helicopter pilots high over the land of the delta south of Saigon, trailing over the endless paddy fields that reflected up at them like broken pieces of a mirror.  The dull green of choking jungle and sinewy-limbed mangrove swamp contrasting with the light green of new rice; the land only rarely broken signs of human habitation – small clusters of thatched roofs or an occasional one of red tile.  From above, the land appeared empty and peaceful, only farmers bent  in the paddies or orchards  She sat like a tourist, enthralled by the dirty green and reddish brown rivers, slow and thick-moving like veins pumping life into the lands.  From page 116.

After the calm of the village, the sheer numbers of people overwhelmed; the scale of the disaster made her feel useless.  Dry-mouthed, she licked her lips, tasting salt, growing more thirsty.  When an old man collapsed on the side of the road, she stooped down, shielding him from view, and gave him precious mouthfuls of water, but in seconds a crowd formed, and she had to move on.  From page 203.

The Vietnamese called the the Tay Nguyen, the Western Highlands, because in their minds they saw the country as a whole, not accepting the artificial divisions of north and south.

Names were important.

Names, finally, were the only things the Vietnamese had left.  For a whole period of history, Vietnam existed only on the tip of someone’s tongue, forbidden to be said out loud.

Geography became power.  From page 317.

I have read other books about the Vietnam war, The Things They Carried, Dispatches and Fire in the Lake, being the most memorable.  I am adding The Lotus Eaters to that list.


Filed under ContemporaryFiction, Historical Fiction, Review, Vietnam

16 responses to “The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

  1. I too saw this book on a lot of blogs and was initially drawn by the title – it’s so lovely. I haven’t read it yet as I’m not drawn much to stories about the Vietnam War, but seeing what an impact it had on you, I think I may reconsider:)

  2. I must read many of those same blogs! The Lotus Eaters is on my ipod (after Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter).

  3. I may add this to my wishlist Gavin seems to have touched you ,all the best stu

  4. I was surprised to when I found out that this was the author’s first book. I’m glad that you enjoyed it too.

    • I’m really wondering about these first novels. Is it the MFA programs? I’m reading The Tiger’s Wife right and find it just wonderful.

  5. I quite liked this book, too!

  6. I included this in my Literature and War Readalong. I think we will be reading it in October.
    Soli teaches creative writing at the Gotham writing classes. I took some courses there and that’s how I knew about the book. She is a first time novelist but an experienced writer. I’m looking forward to reading it. The Things They carried is due in September in my readalong.

    • I think you will like both of these, if like is the right word for these intense books about war. The Things They Carried has stuck with me for years.

  7. I really enjoyed this one. I’m glad you did too!

  8. This was one of my favorite reads last year – it really is amazing.

  9. I really enjoyed the different perspective that this book offered. Thanks for the review. I’ll be adding your review link on the War Through the Generations book reviews page.

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