Book Review – The Lotus Eaters: A Novel by Tatjana Soli

lotus eaters coverPerspective is a powerful thing. We become so accustomed to hearing a story one way, that when we hear it told from a different perspective, a different way, it is beautifully disturbing. Or at least it was for me when reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli.

Vietnam was a war military action ugliness I never learned much about; I think we studied it for 1/2 a semester in High School; we saw movies that showed its goriness and danger – “Good Morning Vietnam”, “Forrest Gump”, “Full Metal Jacket”, “Born on the Fourth of July” and “Apocalypse Now” – and I, for one, listened to all the music that personified (or so I thought) what all was transpiring half-way around the world during a time in which my conception hadn’t yet been dreamt.

What little I did know typically came from the perspective of the soldier – sometimes the innocent bystanders in Vietnam – but mostly our military. We learned about the soldier’s – mere children if you ask me – traumatic experiences and the lack of understanding (let alone welcome) upon returning state-side.

I never stopped to think about the reporters – photojournalists and writers – covering this action abroad. What did they see? How did it impact them? How did they justify their existence there? How did they “survive” and what was it like when they returned?

Truth told, I’m still not finished with the novel. I had a hard time with the early pages – it was a page-turner, but not in the “I can’t put this down” kind of way…..I had to stop and think. I was forced to imagine things I am not sure I wanted to see. I fought it. And so, only 3/4 of the way through the book, I’m now seeing the book unfold.

In Soli’s debut novel, she chronicles the experiences of Helen Adams – a novice photojournalist – living abroad, digging for answers pertaining to her brother’s untimely (and possibly unnecessary) war-time death, in Vietnam during the war. Soli’s beautiful writing doesn’t mask the horrific events that Adams witnesses as a photographer. Nor does Soli over-simplify the war. Thru Adams, we are transported back to the turmoil and sadness, horror and questions surrounding “Vietnam”.

Surprisingly, though, we also participate in a love-story. Usual, this love story is NOT.  There is the love of man and woman. There is the love of woman for man. There is the love for family. The love for country and – what’s more frightening and harder for me to understand….the love for war. The love for talent and skill. And, beneath all of that is THE FEAR OF IT ALL.

This is not a book for those who want an “easy read.” It is fiction, and based in history, but it isn’t “historical fiction.” I do recommend it, though. It a shifter-novel… own term for a book that challenges you to shift your perspective. And for that, Tatjana Soli, I salute you!

Rachael’s Grade:

Writing: B

Character Development: A

Plot: A

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