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
…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
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.)
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
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.
“A haunting debut novel…quietly mesmerizing…” Janet Maslin, The New York Times
“Devastatingly awesome…It's one of those books that I didn't want to put down -- I resented everything else that I needed to do in my life, because I didn't want to stop reading it.” Nancy Pearl, NPR
“35 years after the fall of Saigon, Soli's entrancing debut brings you close enough to feel a part of it.” People
“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.” Richard Russo, author of 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