The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

 Summary ~ The Lotus Eaters

In the final days of a falling Saigon, The Lotus Eaters unfolds the story of three remarkable photographers brought together under the impossible umbrella of war: Helen Adams, a once-naïve ingénue whose ambition conflicts with her desire over the course of the fighting; Linh, the mysterious Vietnamese man who loves her, but is torn between conflicting loyalties to his homeland and his heart; and Sam Darrow, a man addicted to the narcotic of violence, to his intoxicating affair with Helen and to the ever-increasing danger of his job. All three become transformed by the conflict they have risked everything to record.

In this much-heralded debut, Tatjana Soli creates a searing portrait of three souls trapped by their impossible passions, contrasting the wrenching horror of combat and the treachery of obsession with the redemptive power of love.

I had wanted to read The Lotus Eaters ever since it first came out and so I jumped at the opportunity to win it for my book club when TLC Book Tours offered it in their book club giveaway in December.  While relaxing on my birthday, New Year’s Day, I received an e-mail from Lisa at TLC and was super thrilled to read that I had won copies of The Lotus Eaters for my book club.  Thing about that was it wasn’t my turn to present my pick for the club until May 1st.  I had such fun presenting everyone with their very own copy of the book and I dived in that afternoon when I got home.  Now a week and a half later I have reluctantly finished the adventure that was The Lotus Eaters.

Where to start?!  Well, like the heroine Helen who did not want the war in Vietnam to end so she wouldn’t have to leave her life there I did not want this book to end.  I found myself carrying the book around the house just to hold it and feel the cover.  I would take breaks from reading so I could reflect on the story that continued to blow me away.  It was difficult to believe that I hadn’t read one hundred pages, when in actuality I had only read a measly thirty, because there was so much description, emotion and action within each sentence, paragraph and page.  Now I am done.  Now I’m reading entries on Wikipedia about The Vietnam War and trying to give this book justice with my review.

Helen, Sam and Linh are so great!  These characters, war photographers for LIFE Magazine, live through horrors on the page that real life war photojournalists continue to face everyday.  War unfortunately is an endless cycle.  Different place, different time, different reason, same old war.  The first chapter had me a little worried because I felt that it was disjointed but looking back on it now it makes sense.  The Lotus Eaters starts at the end of the story.  The reader is plunged into a historic day in Vietnam, The Fall of Saigon.  Helen and her Vietnamese husband Linh are two of the very few journalists and foreigners still in Saigon when the NVA (North Vietnamese Army) take over the city.  Helen gets the wounded Linh onto a U.S. military helicopter and then goes back to the chaos for that last picture.  Then the reader is taken back to Saigon before the war becomes what it became. 

Passion, battle, death, injury, friendship and love.  These words make up The Lotus Eaters.  Sam Darrow and Linh have been a team for a time when Helen, green and full of desire, arrives in Saigon.  The three are eventually pulled together as partners and lovers.  I especially enjoyed Helen and her sense of self that she gained through the years.  I  loved her passion for getting that photo that could tell the world what was happening in one shot.  Unfortunately that passion required her to follow the danger of war. 

Soli’s description of combat missions out into the jungles of Vietnam where death was hiding under rocks, in rice paddies and in the eyes of the people, children included was heart stopping!  I found myself holding my breath constantly.  I was amazed to learn in an online interview that Soli has never been to Vietnam.  I read Born on the Fourth of July and The Things They Carried, both memoirs written by Vietnam Vets and felt the same depth, description and raw emotion in the pages of Soli’s novel.  Relationships that Helen has with U.S. troops create the human connection to war that made the book even more rich and powerful. 

The heaviness of the horrors of war and seeing it all through the lens of a female war photographer makes for a thrilling and fresh read.  This book is not for the faint of heart but it is a very memorable story that I hope you will take the time to read. 

{Rating ~ 5 out of 5}

Check out Tatjana Soli’s website for more information on her and her debut novel, The Lotus Eaters

One thought on “The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

  1. Oh, wow! Great review!! I’m so glad you enjoyed it and can’t wait to hear how your book clubbers like it. Send me a pic of your book club with their copies and we’ll put it up on our site! Oh- and Tatjana might be available to chat with your club, if you want. Let me know and I’ll see about setting that up.

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