The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli
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.
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.