(STARRED) Soli, Tatjana
THE LOTUS EATERS
An impressive debut novel about a female photographer covering the Vietnam War.
Helen Adams is an experienced photojournalist with ten years in Vietnam on her résumé. The cinematic opening chapter shows her at the center of the chaotic, violent, desperate streets of Saigon in 1975, on the cusp of the communist takeover, as Vietnamese and Americans race to escape. The narrative then flashes back to a decade earlier, when Helen arrives in bustling Saigon as a young, naïve photographer so anxious not to “miss out” on the war that she has dropped out of college to travel there. Making up in grit what she lacks in experience, she secures photography work, scrappily clawing her way up from tamer lifestyle pieces to covering field missions and combat. She is taken in by a fellow ex-pat named Darrow, a photographer whose obsession with the war and the power his camera gives him to capture it dominates his every move. They enter into a tumultuous, passionate love affair as the war worsens. Though she fears becoming as reckless and singly motivated as Darrow, Helen transitions into a seasoned war photographer, battling her emotions about the inhumanity of war with her professional purpose. She also takes on a unique challenge as one of the few working female ex-pats in Vietnam. In tandem with the two Americans but undeniably distinct from them, Linh, Darrrow’s enigmatic Vietnamese assistant, steadfastly walks the difficult line between patriot and traitor, and the three form a friendship out of their harrowing situation. When tragedy strikes, Linh and Helen are thrown together and eventually find their friendship developing into love. This is a visceral story about the powerful and complex bonds that war creates. It raises profound questions about professional and personal lives that are based on, and often dependent on, a nation’s horrific strife. Graphic but never gratuitous, the gripping, haunting narrative explores the complexity of violence, foreignness, even betrayal.
Moving and memorable.