four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
47-July-Aug-2010
By: 
Tatjana Soli
user_rating: 
0

A-The Lotus Eaters.epsTatjana Soli, who teaches at the Gotham Writers' Workshop, has published many award-winning short stories. The Lotus Eaters is her debut novel.

The Story: In 1975, just before the fall of Saigon, 32-year-old Helen Adams desperately tries to reach the safety of the U.S. Embassy. The novel looks back in time to reveal Helen's experiences in Vietnam, a country she has grown to love. She arrives as a young combat photojournalist, interested in learning more about the country after the death of her soldier brother. She becomes a protégé--and lover--of famed war photographer Sam Darrow and ultimately falls in love with her Vietnamese assistant, Linh, who sees the country with a clear-eyed vision neither Helen nor Sam possesses. As she chooses between two men, Helen experiences conflicting loyalties, treacheries of the heart, and the daily--and addictive--horrors of war.
St. Martin's Press. 389 pages. $24.99. ISBN: 9780312611576

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"In truth, the romantic subplot doesn't add much to the story; it's Helen's addiction to war that makes her such a compelling figure. ... The author explores Helen's psyche with startling clarity, and portrays the chaotic war raging around her with great attention to seemingly minor details." Carmela Ciuraru

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"By exposing its readers to the violence of war only gradually and sparingly, the novel becomes all the more effective. ... 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." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"While complicated love affairs are difficult to evoke in any piece of fiction, passion amid ambushes and firefights could be particularly treacherous to nail down. ... Soli portrays these love stories so thoughtfully, and with such care, that they take precedence over the fireworks of battle." Danielle Trussoni

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"[Linh] is the most deeply rooted in Vietnam, and as he is forced to play one side off another, his dilemma feels authentic and sharply delineated: How should a local assistant to these visiting Western photographers navigate the demands of opposing loyalties? ... The Vietnam conflict has receded into the history books, but The Lotus Eaters feels pulled from today's headlines, full of meaning for readers whose country is once again sending men and women to the battlefields, both to fight and to document that fighting." Masha Hamilton

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"More than the action, what you will never forget in The Lotus Eaters is Vietnam itself. You will feel as though you've been there in a lovely, horrific dream." Christine Wicker

Critical Summary

While the horrors of war are never far from the surface, the love stories, as well as Helen's personal evolution, lie at the center of The Lotus Eaters. (A few critics compared Helen's wartime experience to the rush experienced by characters in the Academy Award–winning The Hurt Locker, and the title refers to the lotus eaters who, in Greek mythology, become addicted to the opiate.) Soli's visceral writing captures an alluring, dangerous country, and she excels at conveying the intricacies of war-torn lives. A few critics disagreed about the centrality of the romance and the characterizations, but overall, they had little but high praise for the work. "If you've never read a novel about the Vietnam War, this could be the book for you," concluded the Dallas Morning News.