Thursday, November 11, 2010
The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
A first novel which has received considerable acclaim, The Lotus Eaters chronicles the career of Helen Adams, a photojournalist, during the Vietnam War. It reads like the author was there herself - travelling with soldiers in the field, eating food from roadside stands, helping women villagers weed rice paddies, maneuvering her way in a man’s world and in a war torn country.
She is 32 at the war’s end, and has been so caught up in the violence and sense of mission that war imposes on its players, that she is left rootless and unable to move on with her life. The beauty of the book is its vivid account of the mayhem and craziness imposed on a third world country - with wily and resourceful Vietcong against the American boy Marines, who are struggling to figure out how to fight this war.
Helen has two love affairs, one with the award-winning journalist Darrow, who has his own reasons to pursue this dangerous profession, and the second with his Vietnamese assistant Linh, who has lost everything and doesn’t want to be connected to anyone anymore. The book is well plotted, going back and forth in time to give you more nuggets of understanding – of Helen, of Darrow and of Linh.
Some reviewers assert that the book shows how love triumphs over war. In my view, the love is more incidental. What Tatjana Soli cares about, in the end, is Helen: Helen and her odyssey to bear witness, both dreading and fearing death while moving up to meet it.