Tatjana Soli paints a very detailed picture of Cambodia in South Vietnam from 1963 – 1975. Helen Adams is a young American photographer who travels to Cambodia in an effort to both prove herself as a woman in a male-dominated profession and to gain understanding of her brother’s recent death in combat. She immerses herself in her job and becomes enamored of the Vietnamese culture. That pull keeps her in Cambodia long after others leave. It wouldn’t be enough of a story without romance, so Soli adds the seasoned Sam Darrow, a self-absorbed Pulitzer Prize winner, and Linh, Darrow’s Vietnamese assistant.
Helen, Darrow and Linh join U.S. army troops on their missions to secure villages and they photograph the atrocities of the war. Their personal relationships grow and change, all the way to the final pages of the book.
Soli’s writing style is a little terse and that can get in the way of the flow of the novel. She is best at describing the scenery, the action and the historical backdrop. But the characters in this book are less developed.
I also found some of the scenes hard to believe, when troops are fired upon and Helen jumps into the action, the first to reach a wounded soldier, the one to wipe his brow and tell him he’s going to be okay. She’s up in helicopters, transport planes, doing the army crawl, crouch-running and rolling and jumping into bunkers, just as grenades and bombs explode. These scenes do provide excitement, however.
All in all, The Lotus Eaters is an enjoyable read, with an interesting historical backdrop.
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