Daily Archives: March 23, 2010

TLC Book Tour and Guest Post: Author Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli
ISBN: 978-0312611576/0312611579
400 pages
Published by St. Martin’s Press (March 2010)

Today I am touring Tatjana Soli’s amazing novel The Lotus Eaters (read my review). I loved this book about a strong-minded female photojournalist working in Vietnam during the Vietnam War.

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.

Read an excerpt of the book.

About the Author:

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. She was born in Salzburg, Austria and attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program.

Her short stories have appeared in StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Nimrod, Third Coast, Carolina Quarterly, Sonora Review and North Dakota Quarterly among other publications.

Twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories and nominated for the Pushcart Prize, Soli  was awarded the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize and the Dana Award, and was a  finalist for the Bellwether Prize.

She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. The Lotus Eaters is Soli’s debut novel.

Read more about Soli and her work on the author’s website.

**************************

I am thrilled to be able to offer this guest post by Tatjana Soli where she writes about the motivation behind the book. I believe everyone, but especially women, should be empowered to follow their hearts and achieve their goals no matter the obstacles. Soli expresses beautifully the idea of silencing the doubts in order to pursue one’s dreams.

**************************

Silencing the Voices of No

by Tatjana Soli (2010)

Almost ten years ago when I first got the idea of writing a story about the Vietnam War from the perspective of a female photojournalist, a woman seeking her destiny within the war, the reception was lukewarm to say the least. I was told that Vietnam was considered a niche audience, all military and all male, that a woman’s perspective, not a soldier’s, would be too limiting. Discouraged, I moved on to other projects.

But I live in Orange County, CA, where the city of Westminster — Little Saigon — is home to the largest Vietnamese community outside of Vietnam. In the local newspaper, stories from after the war are frequent, stories of leaving one’s homeland and starting life anew. Individual stories of adversity and triumph. So I began writing the stories of Vietnamese emigrants coming to the US. The idea of the war could not be left behind, it just came out a new way.

The stories started in Orange County, but they migrated across the ocean, moved backward in time. One dealt with a man who escaped on the boats and landed in the refugee camp of Pulao Bidong, Malaysia. It got to the level of an obsession. One of my favorite compliments from this time is when a literary quarterly editor knocked on my door at a writers’ conference and was shocked when I answered. She thought I was Vietnamese and had an exotic European name. My stories got closer and closer to Vietnam, closer and closer to the time of the Fall of Saigon. My first character for the novel formed — Linh, a gentle young poet, who leaves his home to avoid the war. So I began the book, not because the idea had been green-lighted or there was an enthusiastic agent or editor waiting for it, but because I couldn’t bear not to.

The dedication of my novel reads:

To my mom,
who taught me about
brave girls crossing oceans.

It’s a cliché to liken the publication of a book to the birth of a child. But I will say that it’s an extremely moving moment the first time you hold your book. It represents not only a great sacrifice of time out of your life, but also a sacrifice from those around you. Absent spouse, uncooked meals, uncleaned house, spotty social life. No matter how un-autobiographical, the book contains your essence — maybe not in location, history, or plot — but in the way that characters move through the world, the way language unspools on the page. When I received my ARC’s last fall, it was the culmination of many things for me. I sat my mother down, opened the book to the dedication page, and gave it to her. I had kept what I had written a surprise. She cried, as mothers do. Of course, she was proud of her daughter, but it was more than that.

My mother had left Austria as a single mother and come to the United States not knowing anyone. People told her she was foolish, that it was a reckless undertaking with a small child, but she was determined. She wanted a better life for us. Although she has flourished, I think in the back of every immigrant’s heart there is this doubt, this uncertainty that she will ever truly belong. In my mom’s case there is an overwhelming love for her new country that has given her so much, even as there is sadness at what was left behind. You see, once you’ve left your home, your heart cannot be whole again. I cannot imagine being so brave.

Because my mother would not listen to the naysayers, because she taught me not to take no for an answer, I kept writing a story I wanted to tell. The Lotus Eaters is coming out this spring, the thirty-fifth anniversary of the Fall of Saigon. Because our country is involved in other problematic foreign wars, Vietnam is again seen to be current, if not prophetic. If one didn’t know better, it almost seems planned. And yet it all boils down to the personal. It all comes down to one woman — my mother, me, the character, Helen, in my book — seeking her destiny against all odds.

Read more tours for this book and author.

The Lotus Eaters – Book Review

California was infinitely far away. California was gone. Even her dreams were shaped by this land – rice paddies stretched flat to the horizon, mountains and jungles, fields of green rice shoots and golden rice harvests like rippling fields of wheat, lead curtains of monsoon rain, bald gaunt hides of water buffalo, and, too, Saigon’s clotted alleyways, the destroyed tree-lined avenues, the bombed-out, flaking, pastel villas, even their small crooked apartment with the peacocks and Buddhas painted on the door. The battered, loving, treacherous people. Her heart’s center, Linh. An undeniable rightness in ending here. – from the ARC of The Lotus Eaters, page 30 –

Helen Adams is an American photojournalist who arrives in Vietnam in 1967 as a scared, inexperienced freelance photographer. A woman reporter in Vietnam is not met with enthusiasm, especially from the men who make up the news corp and the soldiers in the field. Helen is expected to cover the human interest aspects of the Vietnam War, but instead she connects with Sam Darrow – a veteran reporter with a Pulitzer prize under his belt – and convinces him to take her into the field. She continues to position herself for combat coverage even when Darrow no longer seems willing to help her. Eventually, Helen overcomes the doubts of others and secures her place among the men…but there is a price to pay which Helen never anticipated.

The Lotus Eaters is part action-thriller, and part love story as Helen finds herself torn between two men – Sam Darrow (who is most at home in the middle of a war), and Linh (a Vietnamese poet who mourns the loss of his country). It is also a story about identity and love of country, about the horror of war and about what makes us human.

The novel begins in 1975 in Saigon as frightened South Vietnamese citizens and Americans attempt to flee the city in front of the North Vietnamese takeover. Fast-paced, tense and graphic…the first forty pages had me glued to my seat. Soli takes no time to develop a sense of place and history with her characters driving the narrative. I was immediately hooked, and I wanted some back story on Helen and Linh. Soli did not disappoint. She sets the stage, then takes the reader back to the mid-sixties when Helen first arrives in Vietnam. From there, the story moves forward.

Soli writes with authority and takes the reader inside the minds and hearts of her tightly drawn characters. The war scenes, including devastated villages and patrols through the jungle, capture the emotion of war. But, what is remarkable about Soli’s writing in The Lotus Eaters is not the story of war but the story of a country and its people, and the definition of “home.” Despite the burned out fields, Soli manages to also capture the beauty of Vietnam as Helen grows to love the country.

This is what happened when one left one’s home – pieces of oneself scattered all over the world, no one place ever completely satisfied, always a nostalgia for the place left behind. – from the ARC of The Lotus Eaters, page 277 –

This is a mesmerizing novel on all levels. The Lotus Eaters is haunting, evocative and marvelously written. Helen’s growth as a character found me empathizing with her and fearing for her safety. But it was the character of Linh who really captured my heart – a man who loses family and country, and yet still finds the poetry in life.

In case you have not yet figured it out, this is a novel which I can highly recommend…especially for readers interested in the Vietnam War era. Unlike many novels which cover this unpopular war, Soli focuses not on the politics, but on the people most impacted…and it is that which makes The Lotus Eaters unique.

Read a guest post by the author.

FTC Disclosure: I received this novel from the publisher for review.