Synopses & Reviews
- Winner of UK's James Tait Black Prize
- New York Times Notable Book of 2010
- American Library Association 2011 Notable Book
- Finalist LA Times Book Award
- A Kirkus Reviews Top Debut Fiction of 2010
- Bookmarks Magazine Best Literary Fiction of 2010
In the final days of a falling Saigon, The Lotus Eaters unfolds the story of three remarkable photographers brought together under the impossible umbrella of war: Helen Adams, a once-naïve ingénue whose ambition conflicts with her desire over the course of the fighting; Linh, the mysterious Vietnamese man who loves her, but is torn between conflicting loyalties to his homeland and his heart; and Sam Darrow, a man addicted to the narcotic of violence, to his intoxicating affair with Helen and to the ever-increasing danger of his job. All three become transformed by the conflict they have risked everything to record.
In this much-heralded debut, Tatjana Soli creates a searing portrait of three souls trapped by their impossible passions, contrasting the wrenching horror of combat and the treachery of obsession with the redemptive power of love.
A unique and sweeping debut novel that follows an American female combat photographer in the Vietnam War as she captures the wrenching chaos and finds herself torn between the love of two men.
About the Author
Tatjana Soli's short stories have been widely published and twice cited in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She lives in Orange County, California. This is her debut novel.
Reading Group Guide
Reading Group Questions
1) Soli pulled the novels title, The Lotus Eaters, from an episode in Homers The Odyssey and uses Homers description of the land of the lotus eaters as the novels opening epigraph. What connection do you see between Homers lotus eaters and the main characters of this novel? What, if anything, in this novel acts like the lotus described by Homer, so powerful and seductive it causes one to abandon all thoughts of home? Does each character have a different “lotus” that draws them in? How does the title illuminate the main themes of the novel?
2) The novel begins with the fall of Saigon, and then moves back in time twelve years to the beginning of the war. How do you think this structure contributed to your experience of the novel? Did this glimpse of Helen in 1975 influence how you related to her character at earlier points in her life? Did knowing the outcome affect your judgment of her actions and the action of those around her?
3) Helen makes a pivotal decision at the end of Chapter One—to send Linh on the plane and stay behind to “see it end.” Why does she make this decision? How did you feel about it? Did your feelings about it change over the course of the novel?
4) What does Helen think of Vietnam and the Vietnamese people when she first arrives in Saigon? How do her feelings evolve throughout the novel? How does this evolution affect how she comes to view the war and her role in it?
5) In Chapter Three, Darrow says, “The cool thing for us is that when this ones done, theres always another one. . . . The war doesnt ever have to end for us.” Why does he say this to Helen? What does it show about how Darrow views the war and about Darrow himself? When Helen repeats these words back to him in Chapter Eleven, how has their meaning changed?
6) In Chapter Nineteen, Helen believes that “Violence had poisoned them all . . . ” In what ways are Darrow, Helen, and Linh poisoned? What, if anything, keeps each of them from being destroyed by it?
7) Throughout the novel, Helen finds herself in love, and loved by, two very different men. How would you characterize each of her relationships? Did you prefer Helen in one relationship over the other? What are each relationships strengths and weaknesses? Which man do you ultimately believe is Helens great love?
8) Mark Twain said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear.” Bravery and courage are frequently mentioned in the novel. In what ways do the various characters display these traits? In what ways do they fail?