The Lotus Eaters
When I read a book that keeps me enthralled to the final page, that is so absorbing I have to tear myself away from it, I find myself amazed (and envious) that anyone can be so gifted. That’s how I felt after reading The Lotus Eaters.
Having attended my share of writing seminars, I realize you can’t really soar as a writer until you have truly mastered the craft; however, some writers seem to have talent that defies reason. A few paragraphs into this novel, I realized Tatjana Soli's powerful prose would haunt me.
I rarely read war novels, but the plot of this one intrigued me. The main protagonist is Helen Adams, a young American photojournalist covering the Vietnam War, and in Helen, Soli created a character that is complex, courageous, and real—yet flawed at the same time. Both Helen’s father and brother were in the military, and her brother lost his life in a Special Forces operation in Vietnam. Helen always felt excluded by the camaraderie between her father and brother, and she is plagued by the sense of having something to prove. This lingering demon has driven her to being in the midst of this historic point and place in time, and Helen is willing to risk almost anything to get a defining, iconic photo. Many of the characters in this novel are addicted to war, like a drug that must repeatedly enter their bloodstream.
Within hours of arriving in Vietnam, Helen meets Sam, a legendary war photographer, and Linh, a Vietnamese photographer and translator. Sam becomes a mentor and guide to Helen, who quickly learns that women are not welcome in the macho world of war. Linh helps her to navigate the murky landscape of a dangerous country that is shifting on a regular basis. Helen's human interest assignments also shift as her willingness to take risks proves her mettle as a serious photojournalist.
Soli's prose is gripping, moving, and unflinchingly places you in the middle of the action. I had to stop reading from time to time because the story affected me in a way that was hard to shake off. Told through the multiple viewpoints of Helen, Sam and Linh, we get a 360-degree view of the nightmare that is war and the bond these individuals developed with each other.
I was deflated and relieved when I turned the final page of The Lotus Eaters. It was unlike any other book I’ve read recently: beautiful and somewhat unsettling. If you want to know how to write a great novel, ask Tatjana Solis.