Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

This novel by Tatjana Soli is about a female photojournalist that covers the Vietnam War from 1969 until a little bit beyond its close in 1972. Helen finds that the violence that she photographs changes her life in numerable ways and that she can't just leave the country, no matter how many times she nearly dies in the process. It's an addiction, akin to that possibly felt by extreme sports fanatics. Helen arrives there in Vietnam obsessed with learning about her brother, who died in the war. She is young and naive and inexperienced. She quickly becomes hooked to Sam Darrow, another photographer, who becomes her mentor and lover. He's already a ton of time doing what Helen will spend the next decade of her life doing. He can't return home, even though he constantly promises that he would do so. And Linh is, perhaps, the most complicated of all - he is Vietnamese with ties to both the NVA and SVA and the underground, black market.

The title is a reference to the Greek myth of Lotus Eaters, who eat the narcotic plants and become obsessed, possessed and addicted by them. And that reference comes out during the entire book from Sam Darrow, who can't leave to Helen who keeps returning. They're addicted to war, the endorphins that trail behind it and what they see there. It also explores violence and the role that it plays on relationships - most notably love and longing between Darrow, Helen and Linh.

I really enjoyed this novel and would highly recommend it.

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