I read this book for the Early Reviewer program on Library Thing. I had requested it as a possible choice thinking I would like to read it for the War Through the Generations Challenge. I was so happy when I had been given this as my ER book. This is my first book in this challenge and a great one to start off with. I loved it!! I felt like I was there, but safe in my own house. I can't even imagine how Helen must have felt covering the Vietnam War. I shudder to even place myself in her shoes. Here is my review.
THE LOTUS EATERS
Tatjana Soli, St. Martin’s Press, April 2010, $24.99/C$29.99,HC,400 pp,978-0-312-61157-6.
Helen Adams decides to journey to Vietnam to determine what really happened to her brother. She arrives in Saigon in 1965 as a photojournalist, inexperienced and eager to prove, with a distorted view of what Vietnam will actually reveal. It is a man’s world and Helen’s arrival is met with mixed reactions among the male dominated press. She soon meets and falls in love with Sam Darrow, a Pulitzer winning veteran photographer. His assistant Linh, a Vietnamese helps them both to navigate the divided world that exists in Southeast Asia during the war. They live in Saigon and when Darrow fears for Helen’s safety, he arranges for Linh to go work with Helen. All three accompany dangerous and deadly missions chasing the ultimate photos that will emerge as they are seen through the camera’s lens of this war’s fury. What they see is not always printable, but their mental survival is contingent on having the camera as a prop to shield them from the reality of the moment. Helen decides to return home to California, but soon realizes her mistake, only to fly back to the place where she felt most alive, Vietnam.
The story begins in 1975 during the fall of South Vietnam. Helen and Linh are trying to leave the country. Linh, wounded and delirious from medication is unaware when Helen makes the choice to stay behind and arranges safe transport for Linh. The author then takes the reader back about ten years as Helen, Linh and Darrow are introduced and the story of their interconnected lives begins.
Soli uses a variety of voices to tell this story. The point of view is sometimes difficult to switch back and forth, but with perseverance the reader will adjust to her writing style. You get a real sense of what it was like to be Helen, a female among the guys. Her strength and courage make this story possible as she settles in to live among the people. Through Linh, you will witness the harsh realities and price that was extracted by the Vietnamese villagers. You sense the soldier’s frustrations as they fought an illusive ghostlike enemy, the climactic conditions, wretched, foul and the oppressive heat. You gain a perspective that is unimaginable, the brutal fear and hopelessness brought by the scourge of the Vietnam War. This is a sensitive, harrowing and moving account of the war with a soul, where bodies are counted for more than a statistical tally. This is a war story with heart not to be overlooked.
DISCLOSURE: I received this book from the publisher through the Early Reviewers program on Library Thing.