It's 1975 and the North Vietnamese army is poised to roll into Saigon. As the city falls into chaos, two lovers make their way across the city to escape to a new life. Helen Adams, an American photojournalist, must take leave of a devastated country she has come to love. Nguyen Pran Linh, the man who loves her, must deal with his own conflicted loyalties. As they race through the streets, they play out a drama of love and betrayal that began 12 years before. Their mentor, the larger-than-life war correspondent Sam Darrow, was once Helen’s infuriating lover and fiercest competitor, as well as Linh’s secret keeper, protector, and truest friend. As the sun sets on their life in Saigon, Helen and Linh struggle against both their inner demons and the ghosts of the past, illuminating the horrors of war, the dangers of obsession, and the redemptive power of love.
©2010 Tatjana Soli (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The novel is steeped in history, yet gorgeous sensory details enliven the prose….35 years after the fall of Saigon, Soli’s entrancing debut brings you close enough to feel a part of it." (People magazine)
I love novels about Asia, especially about the fall-out from European colonialism -- novels set in Asia or written by Asians. I was very disappointed by Chang-Rae Lee's "The Surrendered" but Soli's book just leaves me wanting more. I want to enter into the world of her characters, as enthralled with them and their Viet Nam as they are with the war that surrounds them. I listened to this book as an audio recording and left many things undone in the days that it took me to listen to all of it.
"The Lotus Eaters" is extraordinarily well-written, from the lyricism of the individual sentences to the taught construction of the story, beginning near the end, then going back ten years to tell the middle of the story, and finishing when Saigon falls in 1975. I knew, from the first chapters, that Helen would fall in love with Linh, that they would be wretched apart at the end of the war, that she would stay behind in Saigon without him. But the middle of the story was compelling nonetheless, to learn how Helen grew into her own as a war reporter and how she fell in love with two men, who both represented some aspect of the Viet Nam war. We have Sam Darrow, the American photojournalist who has become addicted to the thrill of the battle and is oblivious to almost everything outside his viewfinder; and then there's Linh -- for me, the more mysterious and compelling figure -- a Vietnamese poet and spy who loves Helen for long years before his love is returned. Love between a White woman and an Asian man is not frequently explored in literature or art, making this book unusual in that the love affair between the Americans Helen and Darrow is a precursor to the central romance of the book, that of Helen and Linh. The improbability of their love -- as improbable as anything good coming out of war -- makes for one of the most compelling romance stories I have ever read.
After reading numerous glowing reviews for this book I was curious...but also apprehensive because I'm not a fan of "Vietnam war books". However, this book entranced me from the first page to the last. Soli does an exceptional job crafting complex and compelling characters. Her descriptions of Vietnam make the country come alive -- almost emerging as another character. If you are looking for a simplified political parable for or against the war, look elsewhere. For those seeking an original work of fiction that will transport you to another time and place, The Lotus Eaters delivers.
Soli writes with passion, not merely of what we expect--red dirt and thick canopied jungle and the Casablanca-seediness of a French province in decay--but of the quiet moments that bonded a love triangle.
The war weary photographer, running his foot along the edge of the precipice is a familiar one, but he is joined by a colleague and lover. There is a third member of the triangle. It is not the estranged wife bottled up in a ranch-style house in the US--although she does appear--but the Vietnamese 'native guide' who respects him, loves her, and is torn by the Vietnamese civil war.
Soli, like her characters, is best when away from the war, protecting what is left. There is a scene in Cambodia's Angor Wat where the great trees are breaking the stone temples apart as if they were fresh bread, and again in the spidery capillaries of the Mekong, on a small sacred island, where the Buddhist dead replenish the soil and nurture orchids.
The performance is good, with a touch of Kathleen Turner's weary sultry voice, which, unfortunately, reflects the prose as both the writing and voice crackle with static in the more passionate moments.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
Things as never as they look from the outside . . . and many don't want to peer into the darkness anyway. But those who are brave enough find untold beauty, unknown strength, and unbelievable horror. This is the Vietnam story I have been looking for, the only one that makes any sense, and as hard as it is, the one I can understand. I was a teen during the Vietnam war and watched it unfold on television, not understanding why America was unable to conquer this small country ... seeing so many boys in my small town be drafted go off to war. Although The Lotus Eaters is more than a love story, the love between Helen and Linh begins an eruption of emotions and we begin to see even more of the Vietnam that had broken Linh's heart in the first place. As things began to culminate, the fear rose in me that I would be angry with the ending of this book, but happily I was wrong. I cannot stand to go through an entire book and get to a pitiful end. This book did not disappoint.
Yes, especially after being told that the author never traveled to Viet Nam~ You can truly see the colors, taste the tastes and smell the smells!
There were many poignant scenes, passion, compassion, horror of war, moments captured and lost...
I listened to it for my book club and really enjoyed the story. Sometimes you want to shake her as she seems somewhat silly. However, she isn't supposed to be particularly worldly as she arrives in Vietnam. Having been to Vietnam a couple of years ago I found it interesting to revisit those places in a different time.
It is a well written well narrated story that grabs your interest and makes you think.
The final sentence.
I love her narration and her voice is wonderful. She did a superior job with the different characters.
When Lin and Helen go to find Darrow
You will not be disappointed with this purchase.
I favor historical fiction so this was right up my alley. I loved the main character Helen. The plot brought me back to the Vietnam War, when I was in college... The writing by this author was wonderful~~like poetry in prose...The shocking parts were not overly drawn. And, contrary to many other reviewers, I enjoyed the narrator's voice.
Although the story is dark and disturbing, Kristen Potter's narration is like a soothing balm that is full of somber nostalgia.
Enjoying one good listen after the next!
Having read numerous fiction accounts of the Viet Nam war, all of which focused on male soldiers or male citizens, this book stands out among them. It is the story of a young woman who through luck and happenstance becomes a successful Life magazine photographic correspondent. It is a story within the war that hasn't been told enough, and one that Soli made very enjoyable with descriptive prose that brought this listener visions of Saigon and the Viet Nam countryside that I had never before experienced.
The first few minutes I found the narration to be off-putting with over emphasis on awkward phrases and too earnest enunciation. But as Potter warmed to the task, her performance improved dramatically, though she never really got the hang of southern accents completely right. I can forgive that!
I recommend this book as yet another way of experiencing the Viet Nam war -- this time through the rough and tumble experiences of a female in the new business.
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