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