The Lotus and the Storm

Written by Lan Cao
Review by Viviane Crystal

Be prepared, readers, to travel an emotional rollercoaster from the most profound joy to the most devastating sadness in an astonishing journey in and around Saigon. It’s a land teeming with beauty and terror, including lovely descriptions of Vietnamese holidays and food that the reader can see and taste. Simply put, this is the story of the days before, during and after the Vietnam War. It’s told by Mai and her father, over forty years spent in Vietnam and Virginia.

The war is preceded by a military coup in which Mai’s uncle takes a lead role. However, the story’s draw is the complex betrayal by Communists, as well as American political and military leaders, that is probably little known and absolutely shocking. It’s a recipe for disaster that evolves with increasing cruelty and violence. The Tet holiday that turns into a massacre is revealed as a massive setup. We also meet two Americans whose kindness brings some necessary and cherished relief to all the characters. But the toll of such devastation is wreaked most in the psyche of Mai, who eventually implodes once she is safe to do so in America. The story also contains some fascinating scenes of Vietnamese culture in Virginia, a community whose residents are bound to protect each other long after the devastation that forced their exile from their homeland.

This is a stunning historical novel that leaves the reader with shock and numerous questions about American policy during a pivotal time of crisis and suffering. Lan Cao is a literate writer who has written a spellbinding work about life and death amid turbulent historical times. A must read!