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The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters (2010)

by Tatjana Soli

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Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
This won the James Tait Black Memorial fiction prize for 2010 and is the 28th such winner I have read. Helen is a news photographer in Vietnam and the novel seems to portray Vietnam war events pretty realistically. She meets up with a pretty cynical photojournaist, Sam Darrow, and in short order becomes his mistress, though Sam is a married man. There is a lot of realistic-seeming action, and Helen feels a great affection for the war! In fact, she leaves Vietnam and then returns, to become enamored with a Vietnamese man. The novel ends excitingly but in a way that I at least was glad to read. It may seem hard to believe any woman could like the War, but no doubt that is a condition which affected a few people who went to Vietnam. ( )
  Schmerguls | Dec 28, 2013 |
This was a terrific read, which came through despite my not reading it in the usual way. I tend to be a fast, voracious reader. I'd have ordinarily made my way through this book in a few days, not a few weeks, but lately I've been forced to put my spare time and energy elsewhere. I'm not sure if that was to the benefit or detriment of the book.

The book is set during the Vietnam War and is centered on Helen, an American woman photojournalist and her two lovers--Darrow, an American, Linh, a Vietnamese. (Not a spoiler--you learn that early on.) I love books like this--one that can open up to you another world, and in these cases two, or rather three: Vietnam. The Vietnam War. Photojournalism. The book starts with a ferocious overture--like Private Ryan's D-Day landing--though in this case the Fall of Saigon, as we watch Helen stay for one more story and try to get out alive. By the time that beginning ended, and we then go back to her days as a tyro journalist in the early days of American involvement in the war, I was thoroughly hooked--and that part I read fast. The prose is strong, by turns visceral and lyrical--painting a picture of Vietnam beautiful, horrifying and mesmerizing. And I certainly cared about the central characters. In a way, my slow reading of the rest built on that, as I took time to get to know the characters, let them sink in.

The end did feel a bit to me like an anticlimax--or at least not enough--too abrupt after all this time spent with the characters. (Here is where the loss of momentum with a quick read might have hurt.) I do have another problem with the book--even if for me a minor one--but one that, for instance, would keep me from gifting this to a friend of mine for which it's a pet peeve: holding point of view. Soli doesn't. Now, yes, I know there's such a thing as omniscient. But well-done omniscient has certain hallmarks and quirks that ground you in that point of view. A certain narrative attitude, a bit intrusive in voice and opinion, statements about the future, and of course shifting points of view. When instead what you have in essentials a limited viewpoint mostly told through one character, but then you suddenly abruptly shift to a statement or thought or sight that couldn't come from that character, it feels jarring--worse I feel it's a violation of a contract with the reader. In this case, what was strong in the book--the characters, the sense of place and time--meant I found this a minor point I could overlook--but certainly did notice. But yes, I would recommend this to anyone for whom the subject appeals. As you might guess from the setting and theme this is not a light, happy book--but it does take you on a journey--one I was happy I made. ( )
  LisaMaria_C | Nov 28, 2013 |
Vietnam, war photographers, female photographers, strong sense of place, character-driven, historical fiction, Critical Mass ( )
  martitia | Sep 17, 2013 |
An interesting insight into the Vietnam war, plus the view of war from a woman's perspective. However, the book was far too slow for me & there were too many undefined acronyms. ( )
  hscherry | Jul 31, 2013 |
The story is about Helen, a girl who arrives in Vietnam as a novice photographer, ostensibly choosing Vietnam because she wants to discover more about the circumstances of her brother’s death as a soldier. It becomes clear however, that Helen’s own nature has led her there and, now that she is in Vietnam, is intrigued by the land and people. But the overarching theme of the novel is really the addictions that war junkies (the hard core soldiers, the correspondents and photographers who stay on and, the civilians who remain) both relish and suffer despite common sense and the relationships that would otherwise temper risky choices.

The book opens with the fall of Saigon. The listener becomes a voyeur of events that unfold during that day in April 1975 when the crush of people motivated by fear and desperation struggle to escape the approaching conquering armies. The listener follows Helen, the veteran female war photographer as she negotiates the physical and psychological detritus of the city. It becomes clear that this is not your musical, Miss Saigon. Images of the day imprint upon the mind’s eye as much as a newspaper photograph would, a clever literary technique given the protagonist’s profession. This photograph-as-prose approach is subtle in the beginning and more obvious later when certain scenes are literally framed.

Kirsten Potter’s voice is very cool, calm and detached and, appropriate for the novel. Her voice is clear and transparent enough to tell the story and very subtle changes in her tone convey a shift in mood and/or speaker and, accents are used sparingly. The listener is relegated to the third person omniscient POV from the onset of the book and remains there as the author intends. And therein lies my quibble. I don’t want distance from the events. I want to feel them. And I don’t. Still, the highly descriptive prose and the writing technique make this a worthwhile listen.

Redacted from the original blog review at dog eared copy, The Lotus Eaters; 09/29/2010 ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Apr 4, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
Tatjana Soli’s haunting debut novel begins where it ought to end. In this quietly mesmerizing book about journalists covering the war in Vietnam, the first glimpses of the place are the most familiar. The year is 1975. Americans are in a state of panic as North Vietnamese forces prepare to occupy Saigon. The looters, the desperate efforts to escape this war zone, the mobs surrounding the United States Embassy, the overcrowded helicopters struggling to rise above the chaos: these images seem to introduce Ms. Soli’s readers to a story they already know.
"An impressive debut novel about a female photographer covering the Vietnam War...A visceral story about the powerful and complex bonds that war creates. It raises profound questions about professional and personal lives that are based on, and often dependent on, a nation’s horrific strife. Graphic but never gratuitous, the gripping, haunting narrative explores the complexity of violence, foreignness, even betrayal. Moving and memorable." —Kirkus Reviews (starred)
added by TatjanaSoli | editKirkus (Feb 1, 2010)
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For my mom,

who taught me about

brave girls crossing oceans
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The city teetered in a dream state.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312611579, Hardcover)

A unique and sweeping debut novel of an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War, as she captures the wrenching chaos and finds herself torn between the love of two men. 

On a stifling day in 1975, the North Vietnamese army is poised to roll into Saigon. As the fall of the city begins, two lovers make their way through the streets to escape to a new life. Helen Adams, an American photojournalist, must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. Linh, the Vietnamese man who loves her, must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties of heart and homeland. As they race to leave, they play out a drama of devotion and betrayal that spins them back through twelve war-torn years, beginning in the splendor of Angkor Wat, with their mentor, larger-than-life war correspondent Sam Darrow, once Helen's infuriating love and fiercest competitor, and Linh's secret keeper, boss and truest friend.

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:31:34 -0400)

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A novel that follows an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War as she captures the wrenching chaos and finds herself torn between the love of two men.

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