On a stifling day in 1975, the North Vietnamese army is poised to roll into Saigon. As the fall of the city begins, two lovers make their way through the streets to escape to a new life. Helen Adams, an American photojournalist, must take leave of a war she is addicted to and a devastated country she has come to love. Linh, the Vietnamese man who loves her, must grapple with his own conflicted loyalties of heart and homeland. As they race to leave, they play out a drama of devotion and betrayal that spins them back through twelve war-torn years, beginning in the splendor of Angkor Wat, with their mentor, larger-than-life war correspondent Sam Darrow, once Helen's infuriating love and fiercest competitor, and Linh's secret keeper, boss and truest friend.
Tatjana Soli paints a searing portrait of an American woman’s struggle and triumph in Vietnam, a stirring canvas contrasting the wrenching horror of war and the treacherous narcotic of obsession with the redemptive power of love.
Pages: 416 (paperback)
Rating: 9 out of 10
When I came to the DC area to begin my fellowship last August, I was lucky enough to be able to join the book club organized by Planetbooks. I have not been the best member as work commitments and social obligations keep me from making all the meetings. When I got my free copy of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, I was intrigued. I had other reading commitments, so I began the book about two weeks before our meeting. I was not sure if I was going to be able to finish.
Much to my surprise and delight I was so taken with the story that I was gulping down passages and constantly craving more. I loved Helen's constant struggle with and desire to be I brave. The ways she navigated the all male photo journalists club and connected with the soldiers illustrated both her persistence and the unique challenges of a woman working in a combat zone.
At the book club discussion, I know that Sam was a favorite character. However, I found him cocky and annoying. His career ambitions have there appeal and I think his work ethic is admirable; however, as a partner for Helen, I found him irritating. He reminded me a bit of the popular guy in high school-- the one who makes all the big plays and gets the attention of the ladies.
I much preferred Linh whose keen observation skills and quiet demeanor made him more sensitive and genuine. The ways in which he struggled with his past to figure out how to be in the present made him the most relatable character. I must admit that at times I thought he was too good for Helen. Although, I did enjoy reading about how he and Helen fell in love with each other. He reminded me a bit of the reserved guy in high school who was an amazing person once you got to know him better.
In addition to reading the book for a discussion, I am counting it for the following challenge:
Global Reading Challenge 2011: Most of the book took place in Vietnam; I am counting it for Asia.