Friday, January 14, 2011

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

"It remained the one image etched in her mind, perhaps because she did not have the film to refer back to. Once a picture was taken, the experience was purged of its power to haunt."
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli is the story of American combat photographer, Helen Adams, which takes place during the Vietnam War. The novel begins in 1975 with Saigon about to fall, as Helen and her lover Linh makes their way to way to safety. Linh is gravely injured and as they try to leave the city Helen holds onto her case of film, each photograph like a piece of herself. The Lotus Eaters floats back in time to when Helen first arrived in Vietnam, wanting to find some meaning or explanation after her brother was killed there. Instead Helen found Sam Darrow, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who keeps chasing after a slightly more dangerous shot, and she falls in love with both the man and his dangerous ways. Linh is Darrow's assistant, and beneath his silence and loyalty he harbours many secrets including his feelings for Helen.

At first glance, The Lotus Eaters seems like a conflicted love story and although Soli uses the men in Helen's life as a springboard for her novel, the fact is that it is so much more. Although the story itself is interesting especially considering the amount of research that must have gone into writing it, as well as the fact that it's told from a unique perspective- that of a photojournalist- which I have never read before, it is the writing of the novel which makes it so remarkable. Soli's imagery is graphic and haunting, she uses just the right amount to capture the reader's attention without overwhelming them, focusing on the vibrant details of the world. Her writing has an easy flow and lyrical melody to it as one sentence slides delicately into the next:
"This was the way one lost one’s homeland. The first things lost were the sights, then the smells. Touch disappeared, and, of course, taste was quick to follow. Even the sounds of one’s own language, in a foreign place, evoked only nostalgia."
The title of the novel also perfectly captures the core message. The Lotus Eaters refers to Homer's Odyssey where people ate lotus fruits on an island and fell into a peaceful sleepy apathy, never to return home. Similarly, once Helen gets a taste of Vietnam, she is unable to leave. Although The Lotus Eaters is not perfect- for example, there is quite a large chunk of time skipped about how exactly Helen and Linh pass the years which felt missing and incomplete- it is so incredibly beautiful that any flaws the reader may find can be easily forgiven. Although The Lotus Eaters may initially appeal to those already interested in the time period, as somebody who had never read about the Vietnam War before I was expertly drawn into the a different country and time. The novel is full of beautiful specifics, but what makes it so wonderful is that the larger themes like looking for love and trying to find where your home is, are completely universal. With The Lotus Eaters Tatjana Soli has written a debut which any reader should be compelled to pick up as they will effortlessly fall into the world Soli has created where the fictional and the real become blurred with complete beauty.

Release Date: March 30th 2010
Pages: 384
Overall: 5/5
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This review was a part of TLC Book Tours. Click here to read what other tour hosts thought. For the purpose of this review I was provided with a copy of the book which did not require a positive review. The opinions expressed in this post are completely my own. 


  1. Lovely review -- I've been very curious about this. I really love modern Vietnamese fiction -- books like The Quiet American and films like Indochine just seduced me. This sounds like another good one to consider.

  2. Oh, man, my "historical fiction" feelers are going off. Probably have to put this on the TBR. Sounds like my kind of book. Thanks!

  3. Great review!! I'm so glad you enjoyed this beautiful book. Thanks so much for being on the tour!


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