Monday, October 22, 2012

Bogged Down in the Paddies

After reading the first 50 pages of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, I thought that it would be an easy read, that I would just tear through.  However, after sinking my teeth into it, I got stuck in the quagmire of Vietnam, and found that book wasn't quite as easy as I thought it would be. 

Seriously though, and I know that it must sound like I am grasping for a metaphor by comparing the pacing of a book about the Vietnam War to the war itself, in the beginning, I thought that I would read the The Lotus Eaters in just a few days.  The book opens with a scene that could have come straight from "Miss Saigon", with the American photographer trying to get herself and her Vietnamese husband onto one of the final helicopters.  I couldn't put the book down, and my heart was racing.  But then, we flashed back to 1965, when the photographer, Helen Adams, had first come to Vietnam.  Thinking, like an American, that the war would be a quickie, Helen dropped out of college to document the story, afraid that it would be over by the time that she would have graduated.  Helen was proven wrong on that count, and the pace of the story slows, but it never bores.

In Saigon, Helen finds that everything happens faster than in America, with everyone in a frenzy, and worried that each story might be their last.  Helen falls in love with a famous photographer who is also covering the conflict, and because of the frantic war atmosphere, she sees no problem with the fact that he is married.  Her love interest, Sam Darrow, has a Vietnamese assistant, Linh, who Helen is not sure she can trust.   Ultimately, Linh's story, which is told in fragments, is the most interesting, although the least complete.

The Lotus Eaters tells some of the tales that we have heard before.  The South Vietnamese soldiers who don't want to do what the Americans want them to do, and are sometimes vicious to their own people.  The North Vietnamese forcing people to fight for their side.  The Americans confused as to who the enemies are.  But the story also seems fair to all sides.  No one is only good or only bad.  The question of why we went to Vietnam in the first place is raised, but not answered.

This is another book that I got from The Typical Book Exchange last year, and another one down for the Off the Shelf Challenge.  It was also a NYT Notable for 2010.

Next up:  I'm going to tackle World Without End in both paper and audio form, so that I can get through it faster.  I am on the 28th disc, so I have less than 1/4 of the book left to go.

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