Transported Me to a Different Place and Time

The Lotus Eaters - Tatjana Soli

This was a terrific read, which came through despite my not reading it in the usual way. I tend to be a fast, voracious reader. I'd have ordinarily made my way through this book in a few days, not a few weeks, but lately I've been forced to put my spare time and energy elsewhere. I'm not sure if that was to the benefit or detriment of the book.

The book is set during the Vietnam War and is centered on, Helen, an American woman photojournalist and her two lovers--Darrow, an American, Linh, a Vietnamese. I love books like this--one that can open up to you another world, and in these cases two, or rather three: Vietnam. The Vietnam War. Photojournalism. The book starts with a ferocious overture--like <i>Private Ryan's</i> D-Day landing--though in this case the Fall of Saigon, as we watch Helen stay for one more story and try to get out alive. By the time that beginning ended, and we then go back to her days as a tyro journalist in the early days of American involvement in the war, I was thoroughly hooked--and that part I read fast. The prose is strong, by turns visceral and lyrical--painting a picture of Vietnam beautiful, horrifying and mesmerizing. And I certainly cared about the central characters. In a way, my slow reading of the rest built on that, as I took time to get to know the characters, let them sink in.

The end did feel a bit to me like an anticlimax--or at least not enough--too abrupt after all this time spent with the characters. I do have another problem with the book--even if for me a minor one--but one that, for instance, would keep me from gifting this to a friend of mine for which it's a pet peeve: holding point of view. Soli doesn't. Now, yes, I know there's such a thing as omniscient. But well-done omniscient has certain hallmarks and quirks that ground you in that point of view. A certain narrative attitude, a bit intrusive in voice and opinion, statements about the future, and of course shifting points of view. When instead what you have in essentials a limited viewpoint mostly told through one character, but then you suddenly abruptly shift to a statement or thought or sight that couldn't come from that character, it feels jarring--worse I feel it's a violation of a contract with the reader. In this case, what was strong in the book--the characters, the sense of place and time--meant I found this a minor point I could overlook--but certainly did notice. But yes, I would recommend this to anyone for whom the subject appeals. As you might guess from the setting and theme this is not a light, happy book--but it does take you on a journey--one I was happy I made.