The Lotus Eaters

Written by Tatjana Soli
Review by Viviane Crystal

Helen Adams is an American photojournalist in love with South Vietnam because it is so “unlovable” during its transition in 1975. The sense of impending doom is everywhere. In those critical weeks, thousands of American military are abandoning Saigon and its beautiful, outlying villages to Ho Chi Minh, the North Vietnamese leader who will soon rule all of Vietnam.

Will one more photo really matter? To Helen, they all matter – or none matters. Her desire to be the perfect wartime photojournalist/correspondent is almost inexplicable. Meanwhile, in the process of entering this brutal environment and taking photos of the most horrific scenes imaginable, she falls in love with two entirely different men.

The intertwining themes of love of this beautiful, exotic country and how personal love arises are focal to the plot and character here. Is the brutality and destruction of war or the indomitable spirits forged by the war the transforming element? Does love enable Helen, Darrow, and Linh to keep doing their vital jobs, jobs that the Americans have lost faith in? Do the deaths of their beloved friends make them love Vietnam more and instill in them a desire to remain after the American withdrawal? And just when is it more than okay to be a traitor to save one’s country from total oblivion?

The Lotus Eaters is one of the most honest, endearing, searing, and intriguing stories about the Vietnam War that I have ever read and as far as I’m concerned, one of the finest novels of the Vietnam era. It goes so much deeper and wider than a typical “war is hell” story. Tatjana Soli has caught the essence of this devastating conflict and the loves that ensue during and after the destruction it wrought. Highly recommended.