Reviewed by Carly M.
The harsh and violent fall of Saigon hardly seems like a place in which a haunting love story could unfold, but Tatjana Soli manages to find beauty and heart in the cruelest conditions in her book, The Lotus Eaters. The author introduces us to Helen Adams, one of Vietnam’s few female photojournalists, as she struggles to capture the truth in Saigon’s final moments without losing herself or her husband. The last days of American involvement in Vietnam, in all their horror, offer an introduction to these characters and set the stage for the story to travel back twelve years, to a time when nobody could guess how bad it would all get.
Helen’s journey from amateur photographer to leading celebrity photo journalist is punctuated by passionate love stories and wrenching crimes against humanity. As Helen struggles to capture the war without letting it devour her, she finds unexpected hope and friendship in the form of two men: Sam Darrow, an accomplished American photojournalist covering the war, and Tran Bau Linh, a Vietnamese assistant fighting to escape his dark past as a soldier. From these men, Helen learns both the roughness of survival and the softness of the details that often get lost in war. Through them, Helen is able to come into her own, as a photographer, a lover, and a woman.
Tatjana Soli’s characters are rich and deep and although the book carries a lot of sadness in it, she manages to weave a strong thread of hope throughout the story. I’ve read many books focused on Americans in Vietnam during the war and found this one to be one of the least predictable and most sincere portraits of humanity in crisis. It was easy to get lost in the story and I read the book from cover to cover in one sitting. The Lotus Eaters was completely mesmerizing, if emotionally exhausting, and I recommend it highly to anyone who loves a good love story.
Carly lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, with her husband and their two cats. Her favorite thing to do is to curl up by a window with a library book.
This book was provided free of any obligation by St. Martin’s Press. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.