Pairing Books with Movies: The Lotus Eaters

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Lotus Eaters
by Tatjana Soli

My goodness I love this book so much. It’s a historical fiction novel about a female photographer in Vietnam during the war. As much as I’ve read about World War I and II I know very little about that war. Soli paints an intense picture of the horror of battle and the beauty of the country. The novel is full of beautifully drawn characters trying to come to terms with the contradiction of reporting what’s happening and the inevitability of becoming part of the story of the war.

At first you think the book is a love story, but the story that unfolds is not the one you’re expecting. We begin at the end and then trace our way back to the beginning to better understand the characters of Helen and Linh. Structuring the novel in this way makes the whole thing more powerful. Seeing the long journey that our main characters take to get to each other is just enthralling.

Yes it's a love story, but it's also story of loss and grief and coping with the trauma of war and the return to the banality of civilian life. It’s about the complicated nature of war and the adrenalin rush that comes from being in danger. It’s about the inevitable impact an invading nation has on the society it’s attempting to “save” Helen’s conflicting feelings about getting the perfect shot and exploiting the people felt so real and relatable. It’s something that all journalists in extreme situations must come to tussle with. She struggles with the potent mix of fear and excitement as she becomes entrenched in the world of Vietnam.

**SPOILER**The book has two very complex love stories. Usually when that happens it’s difficult to make the reader connect with both without making one feel unimportant. I felt like the author did a wonderful job with that. She included a crucial time period when Helen is back in the states with neither man. When she returns to Vietnam and reconnects with Lihn while he is helping her recover from her wounds their relationship feels very natural.

There is also a stark difference between her relationship with Darrow and the relationship with Linh. Darrow doesn’t coddle her, he challenges her. Linh tries to protect her, not because he sees her as incapable or weak, but because he’s already lost the woman he loved and he doesn’t want it to happen again.

BOTTOM LINE: This novel, the writing, the characters, the story, was all just gorgeous. I was completely enraptured by the way it evoked the scenes of a foreign war zone and the people affected by it so vividly. The end did feel a bit rushed, like it deviated from the feel of the rest of the book, but it didn’t bother me too much and it certainly didn’t take away from my enjoyment of the book overall.

“The possibility of time going on, her memories growing dim, the photographs of the battles turning from life into history, terrified her.”

“She thought of the rolls of film in the car, the images cradled in emulsion, areas of darkness and light like the beginnings of the universe.”

Pairing Books with Movies: The Year of Living Dangerously and Empire of the Sun, the first is another great look at journalists in the midst of war. The second gives us a picture of the conditions of an occupied country and the people caught in the midst of the chaos.


Anonymous said...

I'm so glad to hear you loved this book. It's on my list to read and I have to get to it soon. I've owned it for years now, and I want to love it.

JoAnn said...

I'll have to give this one another chance... started listening a couple of years ago and got distracted after an hour or so. It was very early in the book, before I could really determine what direction the story would take.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

52booksorbust - It was on my shelf for awhile too! I put it on my TBR Challenge list this year.

JoAnn - Sometimes it just has to be the right book for the right mood.

Sandy Nawrot said...

OMG I loved this book! It was just absolutely gorgeous, and did such an amazing job of pulling you into the time and place. But to me, it just echoed of The Killing Fields. I could not get the images out of my head from that movie when I was reading this. The very cool thing was that Tatiana actually called into our book club and chatted with us. I was elated.

Unknown said...

The Lotus Eaters sounds wonderful. I will have to keep an eye out for it.

Kelly said...

I really loved this book!! Agree completely with what you said about Helen's different relationships with Linh and Darrow. I don't read a ton of Vietnam War era books, but this one was fantastic and left me craving more.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Sandy - I am so JEALOUS! I can't believe you guys got to talk to her! I haven't seen The Killing Fields, but now I'm definitely going to have to.

Rachel - It was beautifully written.

Kelly - Me too, I love reading about a subject I'm not as familiar with and finding myself wanting to read even more!

Jillian said...

I love books in war settings, I don't know why. This is definitely being added to my tbr list. I have gift cards to bookstores and I might just spend it on this one. Looks and sounds so wonderful!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jillian - I do too. Maybe it's because in war settings everything becomes more extreme and clear. The problems are real problems and you can learn more about the characters in a condensed amount of time.