Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
400 pages
Published March 2010 by St Martin's Press
Source: the publisher and TLC Book Tours

It is 1975 and the North Vietnamese Army is poised to enter Saigon. The Americans are leaving as fast as helicopters can land on the embassy to take them away. Helen Adams, a photojournalist, is desperate to get Linh, the Vietnamese man she is in love with, to the embassy and out of the country. Despite a terrible bullet wound, she is finally able to get him on board a helicopter but at the last minute realizes that she cannot leave. As Linh is on a ship headed away from his home land and Helen, it occurred to him:
"Over the years he had doubted her love, if that love could only exist in war, if she insisted on staying partly because their love was only possible in his own country. But now he knew that she did love him. Clear now that she was as dependent as any addict on the drug of war. He had underestimated the damage to her."
Helen had arrived in Vietnam in 1967, completely untrained as a photographer but desperately in need of finding some meaning to her brother's death there. But female photojournalists were almost non-existent and the male journalists, a sort of good-old boys club, and the military were not particularly eager to welcome her. She is expected to take human interest pictures and stay out of the combat zone. Instead, she connects with Sam Darrow, perhaps the least likely of the club to take her under his wing, and talks him into taking her out with him. When she freezes on her first mission, she becomes fiercely determined to prove herself and soon takes a picture that lands on the cover of LIFE magazine. She also find herself falling in love with the married Darrow who tries to teach Helen about the country and its people.
"There's one lesson of etiquette you need to learn here--never ask what happened to someone. The answer is usually bad."

"There's something lovely here, yet even as we look, even as we have contact with it, we change it."
Helen soon realizes that she needs to get Darrow out of the war zone but doesn't want to have to beg him to leave, fearing that he will always be resentful. He, meanwhile, continues to find reasons not to leave, knowing all the while that if she only asked him to leave, that he would. The longer each of them stays in the country, the harder it becomes to leave. When tragedy strikes, Helen turns to Linh, who cared for both Helen and Darrow.

The Vietnam war has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember--my dad watched the coverage on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite every night. As I read this book, the images that were buried in my brain rushed to the front. Soli does a marvelous job of conveying the feel of Vietnam in that time, of painting a picture of that landscape and of making the reader see the reality of war in that place.
"Giant teak trunks blocked the sun, and the vegetation lay thick and snarled below: unseen animals crashed away through the brush while birds screamed overhead. A russet-colored dust floated in the air. The ground a springy compost that left behind perfect footprints. Helen thought of Hansel and Gretel leaving a trail. During the day the heat was so hot and thick it tasted green on the tongue, like swallowing a pond."
While this is a book set in a war and a love story, a number of them, actually, it is more the story about people living in a war.
"Before, there had been this small, shiny thing inside her that kept her immune from what was happening, and now she knew it had only been her ignorance, and she felt herself falling into a deep, dark sadness."
The book spans ten years and there are often jumps of weeks, and even months, in the story which can be a little jarring. There are a lot of characters and it was hard sometimes to remember who was who and to latch onto which characters were going to be the ones to attach to, which ones will play a more major role in the story. But that is the limit of the "faults" I found with this book.

This book took me a long time to read; I found myself taking a ridiculous amount of notes of wonderful things I wanted to share. When I finished, I realized that there was no way to share all of them, nor did I want to. You really need to read this beautiful book for yourself, particularly if you are of an age where you grew up aware of the Vietnam war.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. For other reviews, please visit:
Thursday, March 18th: Book Club Classics!
Friday, March 19th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Monday, March 22nd: Feminist Review
Tuesday, March 23rd: Reading, Writing, and Retirement
Wednesday, March 24th: Caribousmom – review
Wednesday, March 24th: Caribousmom – author guest post
Thursday, March 25th: Word Lily
Friday, March 26th: Bookfoolery and Babble
Monday, March 29th: My Friend Amy
Wednesday, March 31st: Books and Movies
Thursday, April 1st: Lit and Life
Friday, April 2nd: Luxury Reading
Monday, April 5th: Suko’s Notebook
Tuesday, April 6th: One Person’s Journey Through a World of Books
Wednesday, April 7th: Diary of an Eccentric
Thursday, April 8th: Happy Lotus
Friday, April 9th: At Home With Books
Monday, April 12th: Savvy Verse and Wit
Monday, April 13th: A High and Hidden Place


  1. Sometimes it takes me awhile to read a book because of all the notes I take too. The fact that you wanted to take so many is an indication of its worth. So glad you enjoyed this one.

  2. This sounds wonderful! I'll remember to jot down notes on the characters when I start it. Thanks for a fantastic review!

  3. WOW....sounds excellent Lisa; thanks so much for making me want to read this one.

  4. Great review! This book is one I'd like to read.

  5. I so totally want to read this one... and I LOVE that cover! Great review! You know I have never read anything on the Vietnam war... and the quotes that you have mentioned are so good.

  6. The reviews on this book have been so powerful. I can't wait to read it.

    I never take notes- I used to for school but don't now- but I do mark pages with stickies to refer back to if it's a book I'm reading for book club or to review.

    Thanks so much being on the tour!

  7. First of all- I love that cover - the colors and the touch of exotic. It's a good sign when you take a lot of notes. I find that my most shareworthy books are ones with tons of notes bookmarking quotable passages.

    Great review!

  8. I really liked this book too. I kept kicking myself over not having my reading journal handy while I was reading, but then, I might have copied most of the book into it. Great review, Lisa.

  9. I am working my way through this one now and loving every minute of it :)

  10. Great review of a great book.
    I know exactly what you mean about the war being part of your life. I think TV and Vietnam coverage left a big impact on those who were young then.

  11. Glad to see you really enjoyed this one. I'm just starting it now. I hope it's okay to link to your post on War Through the Generations.

    Diary of an Eccentric