The Lotus Eaters [NOOK Book]

Overview

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 ...

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The Lotus Eaters

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Danielle Trussoni
…splendid…Helen's restlessness and grappling, her realization that "a woman sees war differently," provide a new and fascinating perspective on Vietnam. Vivid battle scenes, sensual romantic entanglements and elegant writing add to the pleasures of The Lotus Eaters.
—The New York Times Book Review
Marsha Hamilton
Though the novel explores war primarily from the journalists' viewpoint, the secondary characters are generously drawn. In Soli's hands, edgy, frightened soldiers and hardened commanders rise above stock characters. But Helen is at the heart of this story as she, like many journalists, pays a dear personal price for covering violence.
—The Washington Post
Janet Maslin
…quietly mesmerizing…Ms. Soli has done prodigious research about the Vietnam War, particularly about the role of female war photographers, and so is able to imbue an otherwise deeply romantic book with a strong sense of history.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
This suspenseful, eloquent, sprawling novel illustrates the violence of the Vietnam War as witnessed by three interconnected photographers. Helen Adams, the first woman combat photographer sent to cover the Vietnam war, navigates the boys' club of war photographers, pushing her way onto military missions. Soon after her arrival in Saigon, she falls under the spell of seasoned, jaded, and married Pulitzer Prize–winning photojournalist, Sam Darrow, while also feeling a confusing pull toward his assistant, Linh, a Vietnamese ex-soldier and knowledgeable photographer and guide. Linh, who has lost his wife and entire family to the war, roams the country with Darrow and then Helen (whom Darrow asks Linh to protect). Soli looks at the complex motivations and ambitions of the waves of American photographers who descended on Vietnam seeking glory and fame through their gut-wrenching photos of mass graves, crippled children, and dying soldiers, while also reveling in sex, drugs, and good times as the war raged around them. This harrowing depiction of life and death shows that even as the country burned, love and hope triumphed. (Apr.)
Library Journal
Seen through the lens of young American freelance photographer Helen Adams, this evocative debut novel is a well researched exploration of Vietnam between 1963 and 1975, when the United States pulled out of the conflict. Helen, who has come to Vietnam partly to discover what really happened to her brother, is determined to see the real Vietnam, combat and all. The narrative focuses on Adams, Pulitzer Prize-winning combat photojournalist Sam Darrow, and his Vietnamese assistant, Linh, revealing their relationships, loyalties, and ambitions and the terrible toll the war takes on them all. As readers, we come to understand the characters' attraction to and ambivalence about the war, how love can survive and thrive under such extreme conditions (Helen and Linh have an affair), the courage needed to report under war conditions and the journalistic principles involved, and the fragile beauty of this war-torn country and its people. VERDICT Like Marianne Wiggins's Eveless Eden and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried before it, Soli's poignant work will grab the attention of most readers. A powerful new writer to watch. [See Prepub Alert, LJ—Gwen Vredevoogd, Marymount Univ., Arlington, VA
Kirkus Reviews
An impressive debut novel about a female photographer covering the Vietnam War. Helen Adams is an experienced photojournalist with ten years in Vietnam on her resume. The cinematic opening chapter shows her at the center of the chaotic, violent, desperate streets of Saigon in 1975, on the cusp of the communist takeover, as Vietnamese and Americans race to escape. The narrative then flashes back to a decade earlier, when Helen arrives in bustling Saigon as a young, naive photographer so anxious not to "miss out" on the war that she has dropped out of college to travel there. Making up in grit what she lacks in experience, she secures photography work, scrappily clawing her way up from tamer lifestyle pieces to covering field missions and combat. She is taken in by a fellow ex-pat named Darrow, a photographer whose obsession with the war and the power his camera gives him to capture it dominates his every move. They enter into a tumultuous, passionate love affair as the war worsens. Though she fears becoming as reckless and singly motivated as Darrow, Helen transitions into a seasoned war photographer, battling her emotions about the inhumanity of war with her professional purpose. She also takes on a unique challenge as one of the few working female ex-pats in Vietnam. In tandem with the two Americans but undeniably distinct from them, Linh, Darrrow's enigmatic Vietnamese assistant, steadfastly walks the difficult line between patriot and traitor, and the three form a friendship out of their harrowing situation. When tragedy strikes, Linh and Helen are thrown together and eventually find their friendship developing into love. This is a visceral story about the powerful and complex bondsthat 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.
From the Publisher
"[A] splendid first novel…Helen’s restlessness and grappling, her realization that "a woman sees war differently," provide a new and fascinating perspective on Vietnam. Vivid battle scenes, sensual romantic entanglements and elegant writing add to the pleasures of "The Lotus Eaters." Soli’s hallucinatory vision of wartime Vietnam seems at once familiar and new. The details — the scorched villages, the rancid smells of Saigon — arise naturally, underpinning the novel’s sharp realism and characterization. In an author’s note, Soli writes that she’s been an "eager reader of every book" about Vietnam she has come across, but she is never overt or heavy-handed. Nothing in this novel seems "researched." Rather, its disparate sources have been smoothed and folded into Soli’s own distinct voice." —Danielle Trussoni, The New York Times Book Review

"[A] haunting debut novel…quietly mesmerizing…If it sounds as if a love story is the central element in "The Lotus Eaters" (which takes its title from those characters in "The Odyssey" who succumb to the allure of honeyed fruit), Ms. Soli’s book is sturdier than that. Its object lessons in how Helen learns to refine her wartime photography are succinct and powerful. By exposing its readers to the violence of war only gradually and sparingly, the novel becomes all the more effective." —Janet Maslin, The New York Times

“The novel is steeped in history, yet gorgeous sensory details enliven the prose… 35 years after the fall of Saigon, Soli’s entrancing debut brings you close enough to feel a part of it." —People (3 1/2 stars)

"If it’s possible to judge a novel by its first few lines, then "The Lotus Eaters,’’ Tatjana Soli’s fiction debut, shows great promise right from the start: ‘The city teetered in a dream state. Helen walked down the deserted street. The quiet was eerie. Time running out.’… Anyone who has seen Kathryn’s Bigelow’s Oscar-winning film, "The Hurt Locker," understands that the obsession with violence and risk, at least for a certain personality type, is hard to shake. That Soli’s story explores this mindset from a woman’s perspective (and a journalist, not a soldier) adds interesting and unexpected layers…The author explores Helen’s psyche with startling clarity, and portrays the chaotic war raging around her with great attention to seemingly minor details" —The Boston Globe

"Lotus eaters, in Greek mythology, taste and then become possessed by the narcotic plant. Already an accomplished short story writer, Soli uses as her epigraph a passage from Homer's "Odyssey" in which the lotus eaters are robbed of their will to return home. It is a clue, right from the start, that this novel will delve into the lives of those who become so fixated on recording savagery that life in a peaceful, functioning society begins to feel banal and inconsequential." —The Washington Post

"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 review)

 

"This evocative debut novel is a well researched exploration of Vietnam between 1963 and 1975, when the United States pulled out of the conflict. Like Marianne Wiggins's Eveless Eden and Tim O'Brien's The Things They Carried before it, Soli's poignant work will grab the attention of most readers. A powerful new writer to watch." —Library Journal (starred review)

 

"The strength here is in Soli’s vivid, beautiful depiction of war-torn Vietnam, from the dangers of the field where death can be a single step away to the emptiness of the Saigon streets in the final days of the American evacuation." —Booklist

 

"Suspenseful, eloquent, sprawling...This harrowing depiction of life and death shows that even as the country burned, love and hope triumphed." —Publishers Weekly

"A haunting world of war, betrayal, courage, obsession, and love." —Tim O’Brien, author of The Things They Carried

"You must read The Lotus Eaters, Tatjana Soli’s beautiful and harrowing new novel. Its characters are unforgettable, as real as the historical events in which they’re enmeshed." —Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and That Old Cape Magic

"The very steam from Vietnam's jungles seems to rise from the pages of Tatjana Soli's tremendously evocative debut…A beautiful book." —Janice Y. K. Lee, author of The Piano Teacher

"A vivid and memorable evocation of wartime Vietnam…I was most impressed by The Lotus Eaters and enjoyed it from start to finish." —Robert Stone, author of Damascus Gate and Fun With Problems

"A mesmerizing novel. Tatjana Soli takes on a monumental task by re-examining a heavily chronicled time and painting it with a lovely, fresh palette. The book is a true gift." —Katie Crouch, author of Girls in Trucks

"Tatjana Soli explores the world of war, themes of love and loss, and the complicated question of what drives us toward the heroic with remarkable compassion and grace. This exquisite first novel is among the best I’ve read in years." —Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

"A haunting story of unforgettable people who seek, against overwhelming odds, a kind of redemption. A great read from a writer to watch." —Janet Peery, author of River Beyond the World

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781429934411
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 3/30/2010
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 400
  • Sales rank: 60,839
  • File size: 542 KB

Meet the Author

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Salzberg, Austria, she attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program. She lives with her husband in Orange County, California.
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Read an Excerpt


ONE
The Fall
April 28, 1975
The city teetered in a dream state. Helen walked down the deserted street. The quiet was eerie. Time running out. A long-handled barber’s razor, cradled in the nest of its strop, lay on the ground, the blade’s metal grabbing the sun. Unable to resist, she leaned down to pick it up, afraid someone would split his foot open running across it. A crashing noise down the street distracted her—dogs overturning garbage cans—and she snatched blindly at the razor. Drawing her hand back, she saw a bright pinprick of blood swelling on her finger. She cursed at her stupidity and kicked the razor, strop and all, to the side of the road and hurried on.
The unnatural silence allowed Helen to hear the wailing of the girl. The child’s howl was high and breathless, defiant, rising, alone and forlorn against the buildings, threading its way through the air, a long, plaintive note spreading its complaint. Helen crossed the alley and went around a corner to see a small child of three or four, hard to tell with the unrelenting malnourishment, standing against the padlocked doorway of a bar. Her face and hair were drenched with the effort of her crying. She wore a dirty yellow cotton shirt sizes too large, bottom bare, no shoes. Dirt circled between her toes.
The pitiful scene begged a photo. Helen hesitated, hoping an adult would come out of a doorway to rescue the child. She had only days or hours left in-country. Breathless, the girl staggered a few steps forward to the curb, eyes flooded in tears, when a man on a bicycle flew around the corner, pedaling at a furious speed, clipping the curb and almost running her down. Helen lurched forward without thinking, grabbed the girl’s arm and pulled her back, speaking quickly in fluent Vietnamese: “Little girl, where is Mama?”
The child hardly looked at her, the small body wracked with sobs. Helen’s throat constricted. A mistake, stopping. A pact made to herself that at this late date she wouldn’t get involved. The street rolled away in each direction, empty. No woman approached them.
Tired, Helen knelt down so she was at eye level to the child. In a headlong lunge, the girl wrapped both arms around Helen’s neck. Her cries quieted to soft cooing.
“What’s your name, honey?”
No answer.
“Should I take you home? Home? To Mama? Where do you live?”
Rested, the girl began to sob again with more energy, fresh tears.
No good deed goes unpunished. The camera bag pulled, heavy and bulky. As she held the girl, walking up and down the street to flag attention, it knocked against her hip. She slipped the shoulder strap off and set it down on the ground, all the while talking under her breath to herself: “What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?” The child was surprisingly heavy, although Helen could feel ribs and the sharp, pinionlike bones of shoulder blades. The legs that wrapped viselike around Helen’s waist were sticky, a strong scent of urine filling her nostrils.
A stab of impatience. “I’ve got to go, sweetie. Where is Mama?”
She bounced the girl to quiet her and paced back and forth. Her mind wasn’t clear; why was she losing her precious hours, involving herself now, when she had passed hundreds of desperate children before? But she had heard this one’s cries so clearly. A sign? A sign she was losing it was more like it, Linh would say.
A young woman hurried across the intersection, glanced at Helen and the child, then looked away.
The orphanage was overflowing. Should she take the girl home with her? Once they abandoned this corner, she would be Helen’s responsibility. Could she take her out of the country with Linh? What had she been thinking to stop? Was it a trap? By whom? Was it a test? By what?
Helen stroked the girl’s hair, irritated. She had a heart-shaped face, ears like perfect small shells. A bath and a nice dress would make her quite lovely.
Ten, fifteen minutes passed. The idea of this being a sign seemed more stupid by the minute. Not a soul came, nothing except the tinny, popping sound of guns far away. Helen toyed with the idea of putting the girl back down. Surely the family was close by, was searching for her. No harm done in keeping the girl company for a few minutes. Not her responsibility, after all. When she began to kneel to deposit her back on the ground, the girl’s arms tightened to a choke hold around her neck, and Helen, resigned, strained back up. All wrong; a terrible mistake. A proof that she was failing. Linh would be worrying by now, might even try to go out to find her.
Helen bent and fished for the strap of her camera bag, putting it on the other shoulder to balance the weight. Maybe it was a sign. Insane, but what else could she do but take the child with her?
Halfway down the street, a woman’s voice yelled from behind them. Helen turned to see a plain, moonfaced woman with thin, cracked lips stride toward them.
“Are you her mother?” Helen asked, guilt welling up. “I wasn’t trying to take her—”
The woman yanked the girl out of Helen’s arms, eyes pinched hard. The girl whimpered as the mother swatted her on the leg and scolded her.
“She couldn’t tell me where she lived,” Helen said.
But the mother had already turned without another glance and stalked away. The girl looked over the mother’s shoulder, dark eyes expressionless. In a few more steps, they disappeared around the corner.
For the briefest moment Helen felt wronged, missed the weight on her hip and the sticky legs, but then the feeling was gone. How had the mother been so neglectful anyway? It rankled that she had not been thanked or even acknowledged for her effort. But with the shedding of that temporary burden, the old excitement buoyed up in her again. The possibility of the girl disappeared into the past. She’d better pull herself together. She picked up her bag, checked her watch, and ran.
On a normal day the activity in the streets so filled her eye that she hardly knew where to turn, torn whether to focus her camera on the intricate tableaus of open-air barbers on the sidewalk cutting their customers’ hair, or tea vendors sweating over their fires and flame-blackened pots, or ink-haired boys selling everything from noodles to live chickens to cigarettes, or old men with whisk beards as peaceful as Buddhas playing their endless games of co tuong. And, too, there was the endless flotsam and jetsam of the war: beggars and amputees thronging everyplace where foreigners were likely to drop money.
But today streets were vacant, the broken windows and smashed doors like gouged-out features of a face once familiar. The people gone, or rather hidden, the streets deformed by their absence.
Helen’s Saigon had always been about selling—chickens, information, or lovely young women, it didn’t matter. It had once been called the Pearl of the Orient, but by people who had not been there in a very long time. Saigon had never been Paris, but now it was a garrison town, unlovely, a stinking refugee shantyville filled with the angry, the betrayed, the dispossessed, but she had made it her home, and she couldn’t bear that soon she would have to leave.
Closer to the center of town, there was activity. Gangs of looters ranged through the city like gusts of wind, citizens and defeated soldiers who now in their despair became outlaws, breaking into stores they had walked past every day for years, stores whose goods they coveted.
Helen hurried, sucking on the drop of blood at her fingertip, but couldn’t help her excitement, stopping to look, framing the composition in her mind’s eye: teenage boys, some in jeans, some in rags, breaking a plate-glass window; a crowd inside a ransacked grocery, gorging themselves on crates of guava and jackfruit; a young girl with pink juice running down her face and onto her white blouse. It had always fascinated her—what happens when things break down, what are the basic units of life?
Hours late. Helen walked faster, touching the letters in the top of her bag, letters that she had wasted the whole morning begging for, that undid the last bit of her foolishness, her wanting to stay for the handover. She hoped that Linh would have taken his antibiotic and morphine in her absence but guessed he had not. His little rebellion against her. He had forgiven her and forgiven her again, but now he was drawing a line.
At the central market, unable to stop herself, she held up the camera to her eye, shooting off a quick series—a group of men arguing, then carrying away sacks of polished rice, bolts of cloth, electric fans, transistor radios, televisions, tape players, wristwatches, and carton after carton of French cognac and American cigarettes. She was so broke she could have used a few of the watches herself to resell stateside.
Wind blew from the east, a tired, rancid breath carrying across the city the smells of rotting garbage and unburied corpses. The rumbling to the north might have been the prelude to a rainstorm, but the Saigonese knew it was the thunder of artillery, rockets, and mortar rounds from the approaching Communist armies. Her brain hot and buzzing, all she could think was, What will happen next?
The looters, figuring they would probably be dead within hours, were careless. They fought over goods in the stores, then minutes later dropped them in the street outside as they decided to go elsewhere for better stuff. Even the want-stricken poor seemed to realize: What good is a gold watch on a corpse?
Helen walked through the torn streets unharmed as if she weren’t a foreigner, a woman; instead she moved through the city with the confidence of one who belonged. Ten years before, she had been dubbed Helen of Saigon by the men journalists. She had laughed, the only woman from home the men had seen in too long. But now she did belong to the ravaged city—her frame grown gaunt, her shoulders hunched from tiredness, the bone-sharp jawline that had lost the padded baby fat of pretty, her blue gaze dark and inward.
Ten years ago it had seemed the war would never end, and now all she could think was, More time, give us more time. She would continue till the end although she had lost faith in the power of pictures, because the work had become an end in itself, untethered to results or outcomes.
_______
She stopped on Tu Do, the old Rue Catinat, shaken at the gaping hole of the French milliner’s store. The one place that had always seemed impregnable, a fortress against the disasters that regularly fell upon the city, Annick guarding the doorway with her flyswatter in hand. But the doorway was deserted, the plate-glass window shattered. Inside, crushed boxes, flung drawers, but not until she turned and saw the two rush-bottomed chairs, empty and overturned, did she believe the ruin in front of her.
When life in Saigon grew particularly hard, Helen would go to the store, enjoying the company of Annick, the Parisian owner, her perfectly coifed dark blond hair, her penciled eyebrows and powdered cheeks, the seams of the silk stockings she insisted on wearing despite the heat. She had been the only female friend Helen had all these years.
At first Helen had not understood the Frenchwoman’s talents, did not understand that the experiénce coloniale made her a breed apart. Annick was an old hand at Indochina, having thrived in Saigon for two decades, coming as a young bride. When her husband died she had confounded her family in France by staying on alone.
The two women would retire to the corner café and drink espressos. Helen sat and endured Annick’s scolding about neglecting her hair and skin when only hours before she had been out in the field, working under fire. Helen smiled as the Frenchwoman pressed on her jars of scented lotions, remedies so small and innocuous that they made Helen love her more. Had Annick finally gotten scared enough to leave everything behind and evacuate?
In the smashed display window, the red silk embroidered kimono Helen had been bargaining for was untouched, although the cheaper French handbags and shoes had been stolen. The Vietnamese always valued foreign goods over Asian ones. Helen hadn’t worked a paying project in a while; her bank account was empty. Her last batch of freelance pictures had been returned a month ago with an apology: Sad story, but same old story. But that would be changing soon. The silk slid heavy and smooth between her fingers.
She had worn down Annick on the price, but the kimono was still extravagant. This was the game they played—haggling over the price of a piece of clothing for months until finally Helen gave in and bought it. Annick refusing to sell the piece to anyone else. Feeling like a thief, Helen undraped it from the mannequin, making a mental note of the last price in piastres that they had negotiated; she would pay her when she saw her again. In Paris? New York? She couldn’t imagine because Annick did not belong in any other place but Saigon.
The whole city was on guard. Even the children who usually clamored for treats were quiet and stood with their backs against the walls of buildings. Even they seemed to understand the Americans had lost in the worst possible way. The smallest ones sucked their fingers while their eyes followed Helen down the street. When her back was to them, she heard the soft clatter of pebbles thrown after her, falling short.
Helen picked her way back home using the less traveled streets and alleys, avoiding the larger thoroughfares such as Nguyen Hue, where trouble was likely. When she first came to Saigon, full of the country’s history from books, it had struck her how little any of the Americans knew or cared about the country, how they traveled the same streets day after day—Nguyen Hue, Hai Ba Trung, Le Loi—with no idea that these were the names of Vietnamese war heroes who rose up against foreign invaders. That was the experience of Vietnam: things in plain view, their meaning visible only to the initiated.
The city had ballooned in size, overwhelmed by refugee slums, the small historical district with the charming colonial facades hiding miles and miles of tin sheds and cardboard shacks, threats of cholera and plague so frequent hotels swabbed the sidewalks in front with ammonia or burned incense, both remedies equally ineffectual. Garbage collection, always sporadic, had been done away with entirely the last few weeks. In some alleys Helen had to wade ankle-deep through a soupy refuse, banging a stick in front of her to scare away rats.
A dark scarf covered her hair so she would attract less attention, but now she also wore a black cotton smock over her T-shirt to hide her camera. Soldiers had beaten up a few reporters already. Paranoia running wild. A camera a magnet for anger. The South Vietnamese soldiers, especially, were bitter against the press, blaming the constant articles on corruption for stopping their gravy train of American money. Not an exhibitionist people, they didn’t want evidence of their looting, their faces splashed across world papers, ruining chances of promotion at home or immigration abroad. Helen pitied them as much as she feared them. They were mostly poor men who had been betrayed along with everyone else abandoned in Saigon. If one was rich or powerful, one was already gone. Only the losers of history remained.
At the alley that led to her building, Helen folded the kimono into her lap and bent down into the stall as she did most days. She lifted a camera and took a quick shot, already thinking in terms of mementos. “Chao ba. Ba manh khoe khong?” Hello, Grandmother Suong, how are you?
The old woman stirred her pot, barely looking up, poured a small cup of tea, and handed it to Helen. She felt deceived, tricked into loving this Westerner, this crazy one. People gossiped that she was a ma, a ghost, that that was why she was unable to go home. “Why waste film on such an ugly old woman?”
“Oh, I only take pictures of movie stars.” Grandmother smiled, and Helen sipped her tea. “Read the leaves for me.”
Grandmother studied the cup, shook her head, and threw the contents out. “Doesn’t matter. You don’t believe. These are old Vietnam beliefs.”
“But if I did, what does it say?”
Grandmother studied her, wondering if the truth would turn her heart. “It’s all blackness. No more luck.”
Helen nodded. “It’s good I don’t believe, then, huh?”
The old woman shook her head, her face grim. Gossips said they saw the Westerner walking through the streets alone, hair blowing in the wind, eyes blind, talking to herself. Heard of her taking the pipe.
“What’s wrong, Grandmother?” They had been friends since the time Helen was sick and too weak to come down for food. People walked over from other neighborhoods just to sit at these four low stools and eat pho, because Grandmother Suong’s had the reputation as the best in Cholon. During Helen’s illness, the old woman had closed her stall and climbed the long flight of stairs to bring her hot bowls of soup.
“The street says the soldiers will be here tomorrow. Whoever doesn’t hang a Communist or a Buddhist flag, the people in that house will be killed.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve heard those rumors—”
Grandmother gave her a hard look. “I don’t have a flag.”
Helen sipped tea in silence, watching the leaves floating through the liquid, imagined them settling into her doomed pattern again and again against the curved bottom of the cup. The future made her weary.
“The way it works, from what I know of what happened in Hue and Nha Trang, is that the women scouts come in before the soldiers. They go through the streets and hand out the flags. Then you hang them. Welcome the victors and sell them soup.”
The old woman nodded, the furrows in her face relaxing as if an iron had passed over a piece of wrinkled cloth. “They season very differently in Hanoi than we do.” She rapped her knuckles lightly on the back of Helen’s hand. “Listen to my words. They are killing the Americans, even the ones without guns and uniforms. Their soldiers and our own. All the Americans leave, but you stay.”
Helen shook her head as if she could dislodge an annoying thought. “Linh is hungry.”
“I took him soup hours ago. You are too late. War is men’s disease.”
Helen finished her tea and set the cup on the crate that served as table. The old woman filled a large bowl with soup and handed it to her as she stood up. “You eat to stay strong.”
“Did you read for Linh?”
The old woman’s face spread into a smile. “Of course. He pretends he doesn’t believe. That he is too Western for such notions. For him there is only light and long life. Fate doesn’t care if he believes or not.”
Helen dropped lime and chilies in her soup.
“Da, cam on ba. Thank you. I’ll bring the bowl back in the morning.”
“Smash it. I won’t be open again after today.”
“Why, Mother?”
“Chao chi. Toi di. I’m going to the other side of town so maybe they forget who I am. Not only Americans but ones who worked for Americans are in danger. No one is safe. Not even the ones who sold them soup.”
_______
 
Excerpted from The Lotus Eaters by .
Copyright  2010 by Tatjana Soli.
Published in April 2010 by St. Martins Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
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First Chapter

The Lotus Eaters

A Novel
By Tatjana Soli

St. Martin's Press

Copyright © 2010 Tatjana Soli
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780312611576

ONE
The Fall
April 28, 1975
The city teetered in a dream state. Helen walked down the deserted street. The quiet was eerie. Time running out. A long-handled barber’s razor, cradled in the nest of its strop, lay on the ground, the blade’s metal grabbing the sun. Unable to resist, she leaned down to pick it up, afraid someone would split his foot open running across it. A crashing noise down the street distracted her—dogs overturning garbage cans—and she snatched blindly at the razor. Drawing her hand back, she saw a bright pinprick of blood swelling on her finger. She cursed at her stupidity and kicked the razor, strop and all, to the side of the road and hurried on.
The unnatural silence allowed Helen to hear the wailing of the girl. The child’s howl was high and breathless, defiant, rising, alone and forlorn against the buildings, threading its way through the air, a long, plaintive note spreading its complaint. Helen crossed the alley and went around a corner to see a small child of three or four, hard to tell with the unrelenting malnourishment, standing against the padlocked doorway of a bar. Her face and hair were drenched with the effort of her crying. She wore a dirty yellow cotton shirt sizes too large, bottom bare, no shoes. Dirt circled between her toes.
The pitiful scene begged a photo. Helen hesitated, hoping an adult would come out of a doorway to rescue the child. She had only days or hours left in-country. Breathless, the girl staggered a few steps forward to the curb, eyes flooded in tears, when a man on a bicycle flew around the corner, pedaling at a furious speed, clipping the curb and almost running her down. Helen lurched forward without thinking, grabbed the girl’s arm and pulled her back, speaking quickly in fluent Vietnamese: “Little girl, where is Mama?”
The child hardly looked at her, the small body wracked with sobs. Helen’s throat constricted. A mistake, stopping. A pact made to herself that at this late date she wouldn’t get involved. The street rolled away in each direction, empty. No woman approached them.
Tired, Helen knelt down so she was at eye level to the child. In a headlong lunge, the girl wrapped both arms around Helen’s neck. Her cries quieted to soft cooing.
“What’s your name, honey?”
No answer.
“Should I take you home? Home? To Mama? Where do you live?”
Rested, the girl began to sob again with more energy, fresh tears.
No good deed goes unpunished. The camera bag pulled, heavy and bulky. As she held the girl, walking up and down the street to flag attention, it knocked against her hip. She slipped the shoulder strap off and set it down on the ground, all the while talking under her breath to herself: “What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing?” The child was surprisingly heavy, although Helen could feel ribs and the sharp, pinionlike bones of shoulder blades. The legs that wrapped viselike around Helen’s waist were sticky, a strong scent of urine filling her nostrils.
A stab of impatience. “I’ve got to go, sweetie. Where is Mama?”
She bounced the girl to quiet her and paced back and forth. Her mind wasn’t clear; why was she losing her precious hours, involving herself now, when she had passed hundreds of desperate children before? But she had heard this one’s cries so clearly. A sign? A sign she was losing it was more like it, Linh would say.
A young woman hurried across the intersection, glanced at Helen and the child, then looked away.
The orphanage was overflowing. Should she take the girl home with her? Once they abandoned this corner, she would be Helen’s responsibility. Could she take her out of the country with Linh? What had she been thinking to stop? Was it a trap? By whom? Was it a test? By what?
Helen stroked the girl’s hair, irritated. She had a heart-shaped face, ears like perfect small shells. A bath and a nice dress would make her quite lovely.
Ten, fifteen minutes passed. The idea of this being a sign seemed more stupid by the minute. Not a soul came, nothing except the tinny, popping sound of guns far away. Helen toyed with the idea of putting the girl back down. Surely the family was close by, was searching for her. No harm done in keeping the girl company for a few minutes. Not her responsibility, after all. When she began to kneel to deposit her back on the ground, the girl’s arms tightened to a choke hold around her neck, and Helen, resigned, strained back up. All wrong; a terrible mistake. A proof that she was failing. Linh would be worrying by now, might even try to go out to find her.
Helen bent and fished for the strap of her camera bag, putting it on the other shoulder to balance the weight. Maybe it was a sign. Insane, but what else could she do but take the child with her?
Halfway down the street, a woman’s voice yelled from behind them. Helen turned to see a plain, moonfaced woman with thin, cracked lips stride toward them.
“Are you her mother?” Helen asked, guilt welling up. “I wasn’t trying to take her—”
The woman yanked the girl out of Helen’s arms, eyes pinched hard. The girl whimpered as the mother swatted her on the leg and scolded her.
“She couldn’t tell me where she lived,” Helen said.
But the mother had already turned without another glance and stalked away. The girl looked over the mother’s shoulder, dark eyes expressionless. In a few more steps, they disappeared around the corner.
For the briefest moment Helen felt wronged, missed the weight on her hip and the sticky legs, but then the feeling was gone. How had the mother been so neglectful anyway? It rankled that she had not been thanked or even acknowledged for her effort. But with the shedding of that temporary burden, the old excitement buoyed up in her again. The possibility of the girl disappeared into the past. She’d better pull herself together. She picked up her bag, checked her watch, and ran.
On a normal day the activity in the streets so filled her eye that she hardly knew where to turn, torn whether to focus her camera on the intricate tableaus of open-air barbers on the sidewalk cutting their customers’ hair, or tea vendors sweating over their fires and flame-blackened pots, or ink-haired boys selling everything from noodles to live chickens to cigarettes, or old men with whisk beards as peaceful as Buddhas playing their endless games of co tuong. And, too, there was the endless flotsam and jetsam of the war: beggars and amputees thronging everyplace where foreigners were likely to drop money.
But today streets were vacant, the broken windows and smashed doors like gouged-out features of a face once familiar. The people gone, or rather hidden, the streets deformed by their absence.
Helen’s Saigon had always been about selling—chickens, information, or lovely young women, it didn’t matter. It had once been called the Pearl of the Orient, but by people who had not been there in a very long time. Saigon had never been Paris, but now it was a garrison town, unlovely, a stinking refugee shantyville filled with the angry, the betrayed, the dispossessed, but she had made it her home, and she couldn’t bear that soon she would have to leave.
Closer to the center of town, there was activity. Gangs of looters ranged through the city like gusts of wind, citizens and defeated soldiers who now in their despair became outlaws, breaking into stores they had walked past every day for years, stores whose goods they coveted.
Helen hurried, sucking on the drop of blood at her fingertip, but couldn’t help her excitement, stopping to look, framing the composition in her mind’s eye: teenage boys, some in jeans, some in rags, breaking a plate-glass window; a crowd inside a ransacked grocery, gorging themselves on crates of guava and jackfruit; a young girl with pink juice running down her face and onto her white blouse. It had always fascinated her—what happens when things break down, what are the basic units of life?
Hours late. Helen walked faster, touching the letters in the top of her bag, letters that she had wasted the whole morning begging for, that undid the last bit of her foolishness, her wanting to stay for the handover. She hoped that Linh would have taken his antibiotic and morphine in her absence but guessed he had not. His little rebellion against her. He had forgiven her and forgiven her again, but now he was drawing a line.
At the central market, unable to stop herself, she held up the camera to her eye, shooting off a quick series—a group of men arguing, then carrying away sacks of polished rice, bolts of cloth, electric fans, transistor radios, televisions, tape players, wristwatches, and carton after carton of French cognac and American cigarettes. She was so broke she could have used a few of the watches herself to resell stateside.
Wind blew from the east, a tired, rancid breath carrying across the city the smells of rotting garbage and unburied corpses. The rumbling to the north might have been the prelude to a rainstorm, but the Saigonese knew it was the thunder of artillery, rockets, and mortar rounds from the approaching Communist armies. Her brain hot and buzzing, all she could think was, What will happen next?
The looters, figuring they would probably be dead within hours, were careless. They fought over goods in the stores, then minutes later dropped them in the street outside as they decided to go elsewhere for better stuff. Even the want-stricken poor seemed to realize: What good is a gold watch on a corpse?
Helen walked through the torn streets unharmed as if she weren’t a foreigner, a woman; instead she moved through the city with the confidence of one who belonged. Ten years before, she had been dubbed Helen of Saigon by the men journalists. She had laughed, the only woman from home the men had seen in too long. But now she did belong to the ravaged city—her frame grown gaunt, her shoulders hunched from tiredness, the bone-sharp jawline that had lost the padded baby fat of pretty, her blue gaze dark and inward.
Ten years ago it had seemed the war would never end, and now all she could think was, More time, give us more time. She would continue till the end although she had lost faith in the power of pictures, because the work had become an end in itself, untethered to results or outcomes.
_______
She stopped on Tu Do, the old Rue Catinat, shaken at the gaping hole of the French milliner’s store. The one place that had always seemed impregnable, a fortress against the disasters that regularly fell upon the city, Annick guarding the doorway with her flyswatter in hand. But the doorway was deserted, the plate-glass window shattered. Inside, crushed boxes, flung drawers, but not until she turned and saw the two rush-bottomed chairs, empty and overturned, did she believe the ruin in front of her.
When life in Saigon grew particularly hard, Helen would go to the store, enjoying the company of Annick, the Parisian owner, her perfectly coifed dark blond hair, her penciled eyebrows and powdered cheeks, the seams of the silk stockings she insisted on wearing despite the heat. She had been the only female friend Helen had all these years.
At first Helen had not understood the Frenchwoman’s talents, did not understand that the experiénce coloniale made her a breed apart. Annick was an old hand at Indochina, having thrived in Saigon for two decades, coming as a young bride. When her husband died she had confounded her family in France by staying on alone.
The two women would retire to the corner café and drink espressos. Helen sat and endured Annick’s scolding about neglecting her hair and skin when only hours before she had been out in the field, working under fire. Helen smiled as the Frenchwoman pressed on her jars of scented lotions, remedies so small and innocuous that they made Helen love her more. Had Annick finally gotten scared enough to leave everything behind and evacuate?
In the smashed display window, the red silk embroidered kimono Helen had been bargaining for was untouched, although the cheaper French handbags and shoes had been stolen. The Vietnamese always valued foreign goods over Asian ones. Helen hadn’t worked a paying project in a while; her bank account was empty. Her last batch of freelance pictures had been returned a month ago with an apology: Sad story, but same old story. But that would be changing soon. The silk slid heavy and smooth between her fingers.
She had worn down Annick on the price, but the kimono was still extravagant. This was the game they played—haggling over the price of a piece of clothing for months until finally Helen gave in and bought it. Annick refusing to sell the piece to anyone else. Feeling like a thief, Helen undraped it from the mannequin, making a mental note of the last price in piastres that they had negotiated; she would pay her when she saw her again. In Paris? New York? She couldn’t imagine because Annick did not belong in any other place but Saigon.
The whole city was on guard. Even the children who usually clamored for treats were quiet and stood with their backs against the walls of buildings. Even they seemed to understand the Americans had lost in the worst possible way. The smallest ones sucked their fingers while their eyes followed Helen down the street. When her back was to them, she heard the soft clatter of pebbles thrown after her, falling short.
Helen picked her way back home using the less traveled streets and alleys, avoiding the larger thoroughfares such as Nguyen Hue, where trouble was likely. When she first came to Saigon, full of the country’s history from books, it had struck her how little any of the Americans knew or cared about the country, how they traveled the same streets day after day—Nguyen Hue, Hai Ba Trung, Le Loi—with no idea that these were the names of Vietnamese war heroes who rose up against foreign invaders. That was the experience of Vietnam: things in plain view, their meaning visible only to the initiated.
The city had ballooned in size, overwhelmed by refugee slums, the small historical district with the charming colonial facades hiding miles and miles of tin sheds and cardboard shacks, threats of cholera and plague so frequent hotels swabbed the sidewalks in front with ammonia or burned incense, both remedies equally ineffectual. Garbage collection, always sporadic, had been done away with entirely the last few weeks. In some alleys Helen had to wade ankle-deep through a soupy refuse, banging a stick in front of her to scare away rats.
A dark scarf covered her hair so she would attract less attention, but now she also wore a black cotton smock over her T-shirt to hide her camera. Soldiers had beaten up a few reporters already. Paranoia running wild. A camera a magnet for anger. The South Vietnamese soldiers, especially, were bitter against the press, blaming the constant articles on corruption for stopping their gravy train of American money. Not an exhibitionist people, they didn’t want evidence of their looting, their faces splashed across world papers, ruining chances of promotion at home or immigration abroad. Helen pitied them as much as she feared them. They were mostly poor men who had been betrayed along with everyone else abandoned in Saigon. If one was rich or powerful, one was already gone. Only the losers of history remained.
At the alley that led to her building, Helen folded the kimono into her lap and bent down into the stall as she did most days. She lifted a camera and took a quick shot, already thinking in terms of mementos. “Chao ba. Ba manh khoe khong?” Hello, Grandmother Suong, how are you?
The old woman stirred her pot, barely looking up, poured a small cup of tea, and handed it to Helen. She felt deceived, tricked into loving this Westerner, this crazy one. People gossiped that she was a ma, a ghost, that that was why she was unable to go home. “Why waste film on such an ugly old woman?”
“Oh, I only take pictures of movie stars.” Grandmother smiled, and Helen sipped her tea. “Read the leaves for me.”
Grandmother studied the cup, shook her head, and threw the contents out. “Doesn’t matter. You don’t believe. These are old Vietnam beliefs.”
“But if I did, what does it say?”
Grandmother studied her, wondering if the truth would turn her heart. “It’s all blackness. No more luck.”
Helen nodded. “It’s good I don’t believe, then, huh?”
The old woman shook her head, her face grim. Gossips said they saw the Westerner walking through the streets alone, hair blowing in the wind, eyes blind, talking to herself. Heard of her taking the pipe.
“What’s wrong, Grandmother?” They had been friends since the time Helen was sick and too weak to come down for food. People walked over from other neighborhoods just to sit at these four low stools and eat pho, because Grandmother Suong’s had the reputation as the best in Cholon. During Helen’s illness, the old woman had closed her stall and climbed the long flight of stairs to bring her hot bowls of soup.
“The street says the soldiers will be here tomorrow. Whoever doesn’t hang a Communist or a Buddhist flag, the people in that house will be killed.”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’ve heard those rumors—”
Grandmother gave her a hard look. “I don’t have a flag.”
Helen sipped tea in silence, watching the leaves floating through the liquid, imagined them settling into her doomed pattern again and again against the curved bottom of the cup. The future made her weary.
“The way it works, from what I know of what happened in Hue and Nha Trang, is that the women scouts come in before the soldiers. They go through the streets and hand out the flags. Then you hang them. Welcome the victors and sell them soup.”
The old woman nodded, the furrows in her face relaxing as if an iron had passed over a piece of wrinkled cloth. “They season very differently in Hanoi than we do.” She rapped her knuckles lightly on the back of Helen’s hand. “Listen to my words. They are killing the Americans, even the ones without guns and uniforms. Their soldiers and our own. All the Americans leave, but you stay.”
Helen shook her head as if she could dislodge an annoying thought. “Linh is hungry.”
“I took him soup hours ago. You are too late. War is men’s disease.”
Helen finished her tea and set the cup on the crate that served as table. The old woman filled a large bowl with soup and handed it to her as she stood up. “You eat to stay strong.”
“Did you read for Linh?”
The old woman’s face spread into a smile. “Of course. He pretends he doesn’t believe. That he is too Western for such notions. For him there is only light and long life. Fate doesn’t care if he believes or not.”
Helen dropped lime and chilies in her soup.
“Da, cam on ba. Thank you. I’ll bring the bowl back in the morning.”
“Smash it. I won’t be open again after today.”
“Why, Mother?”
“Chao chi. Toi di. I’m going to the other side of town so maybe they forget who I am. Not only Americans but ones who worked for Americans are in danger. No one is safe. Not even the ones who sold them soup.”
_______
 
Excerpted from The Lotus Eaters by .
Copyright  2010 by Tatjana Soli.
Published in April 2010 by St. Martins Press.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.

Continues...

Excerpted from The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli Copyright © 2010 by Tatjana Soli. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Reading Group Guide

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.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 132 Customer Reviews
  • Posted April 5, 2010

    A NOVEL FOR THE AGES AND ONE THAT DESERVES EVERY AWARD IT SHOULD GET

    This may very well be the best novel of 2010, or of the new century. There isn't a false step in it. Pathos, angst, and the perfectly conceived description of love in a time of war, but love defined by the time, the place and the unspeakable horror of the Vietnam War. The photographer Helen Adams will find herself in a place in time that ultimately defines who she is, and what she will become. Helping to define her in a land on the brink of utter collapse and never ending blood letting is Sam Darrow, and the link that ties them together, the Vietnamese Nguyen Pran Linh. This is a book of truths. About who we think we are, who we want to be, and ultimately, who we become, whether we relish that becoming or loath it's cloak of inevitability. The metaphor, the simile, the overwhelming evocation of time and place is so carefully crafted that there simply isn't a false step in the narrative. The writing is incredibly beautiful and is sustained throughout the book.
    The dialog is just right on. Whether on the fields of battle, or along the environs of a Saigon just holding on without knowing that it's time is coming and coming in the measured cadence of black pajama clad soldiers with sandals made of the rubber from tires. Slipping like a thief in the night into a house with it's doors left unlocked, are other characters who slide in and out of the novel providing some comic relief, but more trenchantly, an unadorned glimpse into what the times were like for those who covered the Vietnamese war as newspaper correspondents and photographers; and, not to be forgotten for a moment, the soldiers who fought and died in it. Think of your very favorite novel, and its author. This is that novel; this is your novel.

    14 out of 15 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 14, 2010

    The Lotus Eaters

    I had never read a Vietnam book [novel], written about a journalist. I could not put this book down. It grabs you from the 1st page to the last. I would recommend this book to all adults. It's a wonderful education on the time America was in Vietnam and personalizes it. Great book.

    7 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2012

    Anonymous

    This is a very intriguing and compelling book. The kind of genre I am not used to reading. But the title "The Lotus Eater" had me even more intrigued. It took me on a unforgetable journey from the beginning to the end. My mind was racing trying to keep pace with all the images of people, places, cities, countryside, death, and life. The character of Darrow still lingers in my mind, he thought he was invincible. What would he do with his life if the war suddenly stopped. The fact that he had a wife and child waiting for him was secondary to him. Then there was Helen, lived and loved for the moment only. She made reckless choises both in her professional and personal life. I didn't know whether to love her or hate her. The choice she made in the end would probably come back to haunt her. Mixed marriages were not readily accepted in that era. This book gave me an insight into the life of a photo journalist and how they risked their life to capture "the moment" photo and the coveted spot in the front page of Life Magazine. This would catapult them into fame and recognition. Their own exclusive club, a notch above the rest. These were a different type of breed of people, they went behind enemy lines, they didn't wear a uniform, they were willing to risk it all and the ever present strap accross their shoulder carried their most prized possession, their camera.

    This is book is highly recommended by me and worth a five star rating.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 10, 2010

    Beautiful book!

    Just finished The Lotus Eaters - couldn't put it down the last 3 days! Very well-written - Soli is extremely talented at drawing the reader into the story and the place. I don't have a negative thing to say except that the end left me wanting more, in a good way. I can totally see this being made into a movie in the future.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Disappointing ending for a great book

    Until the final chapters, this was a five-star novel. The setting--the heat, the back alleys, the foliage--of Vietnam are described so well that I was taken back to the '60s and reliving the photographs that made the war so real for those of us back on the mainland in that decade. This story of a female war photographer is fragmented in the same way that haunting memories are, making it the more poignant.

    I was mesmerized by the intertwining stories of Darrow, Linh and Helen--until the final chapters. Suddenly, it was as if Soli had been confronted with an abrupt deadline, almost as if she died with the novel unfinished and the publishers decided to print it anyway. I felt cheated. The story was all too neatly wrapped up with a cursory summary of events. That was the end of the story.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 7, 2012

    Beautiful

    As a child of the Vietnam era, i can remember watching on tv the last days of Saigon and hearing Nixon announce an end to the war. I never really knew why we were there. In the decades since I have read and read and then came upon this novel a few days ago. I was astounded at its beauty snd hoe my mind was visually drawn into her spider web of culture and smells and people. The main charachters were flawed but believable and one knew that Sam was destined for death. Helen had remarkable courage and yet also an innocence that slowly unraveled in the final years. This is a book for all who still remember this time with questions unanswered.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 14, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Haunting and Confrontational

    "The Lotus Eaters" by Tatjana Soli (Website) is a fictional book about the Vietnam War. Helen Adams is a combat photographer, a woman "in a young man's profession" is drawn to Vietnam after the loss of her brother in combat. Helen Adams' brother died in Vietnam and to her mother's dismay she feels a pull towards the country. Helen arrives without any experience joining a Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Sam Darrow who shows her the ropes. Through brazen luck and skill she becomes known by her own right as a brave (and lucky) professional photographer. Helen falls in love with Darrow as well as with her (and his) mysterious Vietnamese assistant Linh who also has his own sad history. Together they go through turmoil and danger, much like the country they are documenting. The phrase "Lotus Eaters" comes from Homer's "Odyssey" and refers for one's will to return home being robbed away from them. This is a clue to the rest of the book and how Helen, who is so used to documenting savagery through the eye of the lens, will find life at the US unwearyingly boring. Helen is emotionally detached from her subject through the lens of the camera. She documents atrocities but feels safe and distanced from behind her instrument. Soli does an excellent job bringing to the reader the uncompromising horror of what Helen sees as well as the hypocrisy of war on both sides. Somehow Ms. Soli has managed to create an authentic experience in a fictional novel. The reader gets submerged into Helen's experiences and her own private war. The strength of the descriptive narrative comes not from an overly detailed account, but just enough to let the imagination ignite. "The Lotus Eaters" is an excellent novel, haunting, confrontational and compelling on several levels. While not written in chronological order, the book is stimulating and thought provoking as it does not deal with politics, but with the people impacted by decisions of world leaders thousands of miles away. For more book reviews please visit ManOfLaBook dot com

    2 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 5, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Powerful

    A powerful novel. Not for the faint of heart. Well worth reading.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 5, 2010

    A readable, well written, unusual novel

    This novel keeps moving smoothly capturing the sense and essence of war and the people who photograph it. A romantic story is embedded in the gripping, graphic pictures of war as written by the talented author. The characters have depth; the story has resonance. A worthwhile read

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 10, 2010

    A masterpiece

    This delicately written war novel unfolds in an imaginary domain where time and space intersect with thought provoking imagery and powerful emotions. It brings out, from the ashes of devastation, the beauty of the human spirit, triumphant and glorious.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2012

    Captivating and memorable.

    Most interesting insight on Vietnam through a female reporter's view point. A story which explores the culture and thought process of a country which has been torn asunder by foreigners who knew what was best for their country......... Fascinating story.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 3, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Highlight Recommended

    I've avoided reading Vietnam War materials due to violence of the war, but gave this a try and am very glad that I did. The love stories are written with depth and are not predictable. The war scenes are violent, but not as graphic as I had feared. There are interesting aspects presented such as villagers lying about other villagers to try to save themselves, and details about rice paddies that provide more about the country and the culture. I agree that the ending didn't match the strength and intensity of the rest of the novel, but it is still well worth reading.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014

    Stonepaw

    Look it up (gtgtb bbt)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 23, 2014

    PARTYFUR

    PAAAAAAAARTY WEEEEEEE

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 2, 2014

    Silverstar

    (To tell you the truth I do not know what they look like)

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  • Posted January 24, 2014

    I loved this book!

    Beautiful lyrical prose, moving love story!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2013

    I really enjoyed this read.  The description of Vietnam and Saig

    I really enjoyed this read.  The description of Vietnam and Saigon made me feel like I was actually there -- the heat, the jungle...all of it.  I enjoyed the story right up until the end.  The end felt rushed, and left too many questions unanswered.  What exactly happened? It was just too tidy of an ending for such an excellent read.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 29, 2013

    Thrilling

    Loved the book from beginning to end

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 15, 2013

    Definitley not a page turner. The part about the impending hurr

    Definitley not a page turner. The part about the impending hurricane was exciting but most of the book was boring; I found grammatical and spelling errors that shocked me.
    It was interesting to have American Muslims as the protagonists amd gave me some insight about a group with whom I've had some, but limited experience with.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 14, 2013

    Outstanding

    I enjoyed this book its different and one of those where you cant turn the page fast enough half the time to see what happens next

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