Friday Morning Bookclub

August 11, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Filed under: Book Recomendations,Literary Tidbits,The Lotus Eaters — Esther @ 9:13 pm

In 1968, I was eleven years old.  In 1968, the Viet Nam War was raging – this was the year of the Tet Offensive, a bloody, violent attack on Saigon.  In 1968, America’s knowledge of the events unfolding in Viet Nam came by way of the nightly news broadcasts, when at 7:30 p.m. we turned to our TV’s to learn of the days casualties and triumphs in that tiny tropical country on the other side of the world.  In 1968, my nineteen year old brother was serving a years tour in the Air Force at Tan Son Nhut Air Force Base in Saigon.

Those are my memories of the Viet Nam War.  Now, forty-two years later, I realize that while I had lived through those war years, had watched the horrors of it unfold on the TV, had even felt a personal connection to the war because of my brother, I really knew very little about America’s involvement in that war in Southeast Asia.  Why were we there?  Why did we leave?

Tatjana Soli’s novel, “The Lotus Eaters”, is the story of Helen Adams, a female photojournalist working in the male dominated world of Viet Nam.  Spanning the years 1965 to 1975, we follow Helen through two love affairs – one with a fellow photojournalist who is consumed by the war, and one with Linh, a Vietnamese war deserter who works as a photographic assistant.  While Helen’s affairs are passionate and emotional, it is the war and the country of Viet Nam that are the major focus of this novel.  Soli’s graphic descriptions transport the reader to the humid, tropical country.  We are in the center of  the dirty, smelly city of Saigon.  We are boating down the green, moss hung rivers of the country.  We witness the destruction and desecration of the villages.  I felt the fear that Helen must have felt when accompanying troops into the jungle – suddenly coming under fire from unseen enemies.

This was an emotional story.  The characters all held secrets.  They all had their passions, and their hunger for the war, and for the photographs that would bring the war home to the rest of the world.  I am glad that I read this.  It is an important part of the history of the United States – of its willingness to get involved in wars that are not its own.  In a sense, it’s also an important part of my history.  And of anyone else who lived through those tumultuous years.

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