Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Copyright 2010
St. Martin's Press - Fiction/War
386 pages
Tatjana Soli's website

Helen Adams has spent a dozen years in Vietnam, an American photojournalist who arrived in the country knowing little about photography but determined to succeed. Now, Saigon is falling and foreigners are rushing to evacuate.

Helen finds herself torn. She has come to love the country and the men who shared this war with her. As she and her injured lover hurry to safety, Helen reflects back upon her years in Vietnam, the fear and triumph, love and horror. Will she make it out of this country alive? ***

***Note: There is a small inaccuracy in this description to avoid spoilers. The book jacket for my ARC also shares this inaccuracy, although the description above was written in my own words.

There are so many adjectives to describe this book that I'm not quite sure where to begin. Helen is a fascinating character. Why would a woman leave the safety of home for the muck and horror of a war zone? I think that would be a bit of a spoiler, actually, but Helen has her reasons. Yet, the reality is a shock to her and I think that's why the The Lotus Eaters is the kind of story that really sucks you in.

When Helen arrives in Vietnam, she's more frightened than expected; and, Tatjana Soli paints a portrait of Helen with a great deal of emotional depth and plenty of grit. She doesn't tiptoe around the terror and gore of war. Yet, the story is not all harrowing and gritty. It's also about love and loss, devotion and betrayal, beauty and regret. It's about the contrasts -- an exotically beautiful country devastated by war; people who mean well but brush off horrible mistakes in order to survive; a woman in a man's world and the inner conflict she must deal with in addition to her battle for acceptance.

The Lotus Eaters is a hard read, simply because of its setting, but it's a deeply felt, truthful read. There is a ring of accuracy, a melancholy tone, and a haunting rhythm to the prose.

What I liked most about the book was that it felt real; I always had the sense that I was there with Helen. Helen, Sam and Linh, the three main characters, are well-developed and raw. At times it's almost as if you know them too well, so well it hurts. As with other books that are dark, I had to take breaks and read something a bit lighter for an hour or a day, now and then, but that's a good thing because the Vietnam War was, of course, clearly a long, drawn-out horror.

The one complaint I have with the book is that I thought the author's writing was a little too fragmented. I think it was deliberate, to evoke the harsh atmosphere. And, yet, at times I felt like the use of sentence fragments was less an effective tool and more an annoying intrusion by the author. I was a little too aware of Tatjana Soli telling a story, in other words. It's a small complaint, not worth dwelling upon.

4/5 - At once lovely and horrifying, an excellent tale of one woman's determination to make her way in a time and place filled with contrasts. Packed with the senses, you'll leave this book feeling like you were there. R-rated in its accurate descriptions of gore, but PG, otherwise. In spite of the war setting, there's not a lot of rough dialogue and while Helen almost always has a lover, sex is not described in detail.

My thanks to the author and TLC Book Tours for the advance reader provided for review. My copy will be traveling, soon, in a box that will go cross-country. I have no idea who will end up with The Lotus Eaters, but it will find a happy new home.

17 comments:

  1. That does sound like it would read like a true story. I really want to get my hands on that book!

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  2. This one sounds interesting. Oh I did get Simon's book and hope to read it soon.

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  3. Thanks!for the review.will read.

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  4. Kathy,

    It reads like a novel, but it has the ring of truth in that you feel like you were there with the characters, if that makes sense. It's beautifully described - packed with the senses.

    Krista,

    It's a great story with fascinating characters. Yay! I can't wait to see what you think about Simon. You've been very lucky at my blog, haven't you?

    Tribute Books,

    You're welcome. I hope you do read The Lotus Eaters. It's a pretty amazing book.

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  5. This sounds pretty interesting. I think it must be difficult to write a book - fiction or otherwise - that takes place in Vietnam during the war. I think I'll give it a look-see at least.

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  6. Bridget,

    I'm sure it's extremely difficult. There's a pretty extensive bibliography and the book has a realistic feel, so I really think the author did her research. My only complaint with the book was her personal writing style and, like I said, it's a minor complaint. I think there's a technique to writing with fragments but you have to use them sparingly to add impact and, if overdone, they muddle the purpose.

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  7. It sounds great. I just finished Dragon House, so I'm in a Vietnam mood.

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  8. I've got Dragon House on my wish list. I'll have to watch for your review. The Lotus Eaters is very good. I did have trouble with her writing style, but I think that's more of a personal issue. The story is great. Go for it.

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  9. I'm part of the tour, too, and will be starting the book soon. Sounds like a good one. We'll get your review on War Through the Generations soon.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  10. Anna,

    I enjoyed The Lotus Eaters. I had a little trouble finishing it up because I've had a migraine all week (spring is definitely here) but it's a great story. I hope you enjoy it!

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  11. Excellent write-up, as always. I've read a couple of good reviews for this. Mentally adding it to my TBR list...

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  12. Les,

    I think you'd like it, but you're unpredictable so I can't say for sure. ;)

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  13. Wonderful review! I don't think I've read many novels set in Vietnam so I definitely need to add this to my list.

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  14. Iliana,

    Thank you! I don't think I've read that many novels set in Vietnam, either. The Lotus Eaters is good. I've got Matterhorn on my wish list, also. And, there's another one -- not sure of the name, but I think it's The Dragon House by John Shors? A Friend read it and said it's good, so I want to get my mitts on it sometime.

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  15. Nancy, I'm so glad you enjoyed the book. "At once lovely and horrifying.." makes it sound like it would be an excellent book club choice.

    Thanks so much for the thoughtful review! The time you spent reading/reviewing The Lotus Eaters is greatly appreciated.

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  16. Lisa,

    I didn't think to mention that. Yes, it would be a great book club choice because I think there's plenty of fodder for discussion.

    Thanks for letting me join in on the tour!

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  17. We posted about your review here on War Through the Generations.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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