The Lotus Eaters: Book summary and reviews of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters

A Novel

By Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2010,
    384 pages.

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About this book

Book Summary

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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Reviews

Media Reviews

"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. She artfully uses Helen’s autodidactic approach to photography as a way of raising questions that her readers need to answer too. What is a war photographer’s mission? The book suggests that the job involves developing both a discerning eye (Sam is said to have birdlike movements, as if they allow him to look at things from many angles at once) and an analytic understanding of what the camera records." - The New York Times, Janet Maslin

"Starred Review. This is 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

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

"Starred Review. Soli's poignant work will grab the attention of most readers. A powerful new writer to watch." - Library Journal

"If you have wondered what it's like to be a combat photographer and what kind of toll such brutal work exacts on the soul, 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, Pullitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, Bridge of Sighs and That Old Cape Magic

"Set amid the twin infernos of Cambodia and Vietnam in the early 1970's, The Lotus Eaters draws the reader into a haunting world of war, betrayal, courage, obsession, and love.  Tatjana Soli's spare, lucid prose infuses this novel with a dramatic clarity that makes us eyewitnesses to the collapse of two civilizations.  More than that, The Lotus Eaters helps us to see and hear and feel the terrible human costs of that conflagration." - Tim O'Brien, author of The Things They Carried

"The very steam from Vietnam's jungles seems to rise from the pages of Tatjana Soli's tremendously evocative debut, a love story set in the hallucinatory atmosphere of war, described in translucent, fever-dream prose. " - Janice Y. K. Lee, author of The Piano Teacher

"The Lotus Eaters is 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 from a promising new writer." - Katie Crouch, author of Girls in Trucks and Men and Dogs
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"Beautiful and harrowing, The Lotus Eaters 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.  Tatjana Soli's exquisite first novel is among the best I've read in years." - Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters

"A haunting story of the powers of love and war, the demands of history and desire, and the unforgettable people who seek, against overwhelming odds, a kind of redemption. A great read from a writer to watch." - Janet Peery, National Book Award Finalist for River Beyond the World

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Reader Reviews

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Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Nicole B. (New York, New York)
A Stunning Debut
Complex characters, a riveting portrayal of the atrocities of the Vietnam War, and glimpse into the live of the photojournalists tasked with covering the war had me transported completely throughout the duration of the novel. Soli is adept at fully shading the emotions of her characters so that you feel for them as they not only make decisions for themselves but endure heartbreak at the decisions of others. Helen is a stunning character and I was fascinated with her from her beginnings as a female photographer in the world of men through her progression to staying on in the dangerous last days of the war. Beautifully tod, I was able to see every last picture in my mind. I highly this novel.

Rated 3 of 5 of 5 by Claire M. (Hilton Head, SC)
The Lotus Eaters
I’m fairly well informed on Vietnam and our war there and it has been of abiding interest given the loss of friends and relatives who died for it or of it as well as my own activism during the time. I looked forward to reading this novel and I have had the damnedest time trying to get through it. While Soli has evocative passages of narrative, often bringing the country to life, that cannot be said of her characters. Characterization is weak - and some of the images are hard to swallow. Did she really go to find Vietnam armed only with the knowledge of how to use an Instamatic and that her brother died there? How do we go from a woman-child worried about how to deal with her period to a woman ready to exchange sex for selfish and juvenile emotions while becoming jaded by a war she presumes to understand? I read an advance reader’s copy and I’m not a stranger to those so the extraordinary number of syntactical errors, dependent clauses with no antecedent and unchecked assertions of truth that have made me stumble and go back a sentence or more to decipher are uncommon and have interfered with my reading. There are elements here of a story to be told but the lack of character and plot development as well as serious editing are a hindrance to making it take off.

Rated 2 of 5 of 5 by Peg M. (Durham, NC)
The Lotus Defeaters
After more than a month struggling through this novel, I surrender. One hundred pages from the end of the book, I am no longer willing to give any more of my time or effort to this novel, The Lotus Eaters. While some of the descriptions are rich and evocative, they cannot counteract the flatness of the characters. I don’t care what happens to any of them. This reads like a screenplay, headed for the stage – and it may make a fabulous movie, full of intrigue and lust, cityscape and jungle – but the book itself is just is tedious.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Barbara J. (West Valley City, Utah)
A must read
This book is well written. It is set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War about a woman photographer and the experiences she had covering the War. I was quite impressed with the description of the land where it be the jungle or Saigon. I was transported there, while reading.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Kathy G. (Alamo, CA)
The Lotus Eaters
I have hesitated for over a week to start my review. The reading experience has been so thought provoking I have been a little overwhelmed.

From a personal experience, my husband and I lived in Panama during the middle of the war. (The U.S. Canal Zone in Panama was one of the strategic training areas for the Army Special Forces. ) Most of our friends were deployed while we were living there. I was in my early twenties and had no realistic idea what our young men really faced until I read the book.

Tatjana Soli's depiction of war time Vietnam - the beauty of its people as well as the horrors of war is masterful. The character development is both complex and compelling. Her descriptions are beautiful. One feels as though one is walking beside Helen Adams whether she is traveling along the crowded streets of Saigon or through the smoldering heat of the war zone.

I highly recommend The Lotus Eaters. Soli's balance of violence, beauty and love yields a riveting novel that is hard to put down from the very beginning to the very end.

Rated 5 of 5 of 5 by Judith G. (Ewa Beach, HI)
Deja vu and VietNam
I read this hoping I would recognize places and buildings in VietNam that I have seen and I did. Tatjana Soli captured the cloying heat as well as the green countryside and villages. With three (for me) competing protagonists the story flowed easily between and among their lives. This is a rich description of a country torn by war while citizens remained stoic and willing to bear what was brought to them. I've been to VietNam 5 times and think this novel could be an opening for others who think they should go but haven't...to do just that. It offers the opportunity to learn of the customs and culture of the Vietnamese. The Author's notes and the General Bibliography should be invaluable to those wanting to read more about the area and the war written by various authors.

...12 more reader reviews

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Author Information

Tatjana Soli Author Biography

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. Her bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, winner of the James Tait Black Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book for 2010 and finalist for the LA Times Book Award among other honors. Her second book, The Forgetting Tree, is a New York Times Notable Book for 2012. Her stories have appeared in Zyzzyva, Boulevard, and The Sun. Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories. She lives with her husband in Southern California.

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