The Lotus Eaters
By Tatjana Soli
St. Martin’s Press, 2010
In 1965 Helen Adams, a white American woman from Southern California, drops out of college and heads to Vietnam to be a war photographer. She has little experience with cameras, or even journalism, but goes to Saigon to better understand the death of her older brother Michael, who was killed in the war. She stays in Vietnam for the good part of ten years. The book begins in 1975, the year the war ends, and when Helen is coming to terms with both what she will do next and when to leave—when will she be sure to get the final picture? The the story then flashes back, and chronicles her ten years in Vietnam, where she learns to be a photographer and falls in love with two other photographers – an American, Sam Darrow and a Vietnamese, Nguyen Pran Linh.
I didn’t plan to read two war stories in a row, but I was drawn to this book after reading about it in a review of Soli’s latest book, The Forgetting Tree. I am intrigued by stories of photographers and liked the idea of a novel about a female war photographer in the 1960s. Soli grew up with an interest in the Vietnam War and researched female photographers who worked in Vietnam as she wrote the book. Her research and passion paid off. The Lotus Easter is engrossing and real. There were times in the middle when I momentarily tired of the war scenes, but Helen’s character and the set up are so intriguing that I stuck with the story, and I found the last third of the book to be the most emotionally powerful—when Helen finally finds her footing as a photographer and a woman in Vietnam.