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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.

11 Comments

  1. March 24, 2010    

    This sounds very interesting… I will check this out

  2. March 24, 2010    

    This book sounds wonderful! I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a journalist covering war.

  3. March 24, 2010    

    great review and I really enjoyed the author’s guest post and story about her Mom’s emigration from Austria. Thanks for these posts!

  4. March 24, 2010    

    Excellent review, Wendy! Some novels about war that focus on the politics leave me cold, and confused. I love that this one shines its light on the character, and also love that it’s a strong woman in that role.

    Thank you so much for all the time you invested in the reading and reviewing of The Lotus Eaters. I’m so happy you enjoyed the book, and really appreciate everything you do!!

  5. March 24, 2010    

    Where’s my comment? Did I mess up?? I got interrupted by a sick child and then it was gone! Ugh.. Well, what did I say? Hmm.. something like- EXCELLENT REVIEW, WENDY!! and etc. I’m thrilled you enjoyed the book and am really appreciative of all the time that went into reviewing it. Thanks so much.. you’re the best!

  6. March 24, 2010    

    Swati: Hope you’ll get a chance to read it 🙂

    Kathy: I always thought it would be exciting to be a journalist like this – but it is extremely dangerous too. I can’t see people with wife/husband and kids doing this for long.

    Colleen: You’re welcome – I’m glad you enjoyed the posts!

    Lisa: thank you, my dear! I love reviewing books for TLC – you guys always get the best authors and books 🙂 My spam filter is just rabid today – lots of my regulars have been getting dumped in there for some reason…urgh!!!!

  7. March 24, 2010    

    I’m so glad you enjoyed this book so much, as I have it to review!

  8. March 25, 2010    

    I’m really looking forward to this one, so I’m thrilled to see how much you enjoyed it. The premise is absolutely fascinating to me, but I’m glad to read it’s both a thriller and a romance. Thanks!

  9. March 27, 2010    

    Swapna: I am going to guess that you loved this book 🙂

    Carrie: Soli’s writing is really superb…I hope you’ll love the book as I did!

  10. Judy Judy
    September 20, 2011    

    Thank you for reviewing, so very well, a book that I have carried in my heart from the moment I started it….I actually had the paperback version and have since given that away and purchased the hardcover edition.

    This book touched me on so many levels….the main one being that Helen is woman defining herself as she goes along….like so many of us.

    I am new to your blog and am enjoying it very much!

  11. October 25, 2011    

    Judy: Forgive my late response to your comment! Thank you for visiting and I am glad you are enjoying my blog 🙂 I agree with your comments on the book!

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