Simply Reading: The Lotus Eaters

It’s probably a misnomer to say I’ve been simply reading The Lotus Eaters, this excellent novel by Tatjana Soli. There’s nothing simple about the Vietnam War or about that country’s culture. Soli has constructed a complex masterwork that delves deeply into both those themes, but frames it all within a love story about Helen, a female photographer who has to decide what is more important to her…the war, or her relationship with the gentle poet Linh.

Hard to believe someone could become addicted to war, but Helen seems to have done that. She seems most in love with the images the war provides her, the opportunity to take her craft to an entirely new level. “Long ago she had become more ambitious than feeling. She had fallen in love with images instead of living things. Except for Linh.”

I am in awe of the research Soli has done for this book. On her website, she says that she has been “haunted” by the Vietnam War since she was a “small girl,” calling it a “mysterious force that shaped the world around her.” Growing up near Monterey, California, she “read everything she could get her hands on” about the war. It amazes me that a “small girl” would be touched so deeply by such a complex event from the past,  and would retain this fascination throughout her life, parlaying it into her work as an adult.

Photo by Henri Houet

Soli found the inspiration for Helen and the focus for her novel in Dickey Chapelle, one of the first woman female war correspondents who was killed in Vietnam on November 4, 1965 while on patrol with a Marine platoon during a search and destroy operation. Soli wrote that finding this photograph of Chapelle being administered the Last Rites “set a fire” in her, as she had never heard about any female photojournalists in that war.

Although I’m still in the early stages of the novel and have yet to discover Helen’s fate, I’m reading slowly, savoring Soli’s very interesting writing style – poetically descriptive passages often followed by short abrupt sentences which pull the reader up short like  bursts of gunfire. I’m reading it electronically in Subtext, which includes lots of fascinating notes by Soli herself as well as interesting commentary from journalists, reviewers, and other readers.
Having come of age in the shadow of that war, I’m completely engrossed in Soli’s perspective and basking in her knowledge.
Simply stunning.

The Sunday Salon – Impressions from a Readers Week

There’s been no rhyme or reason to this week, at least in terms of my reading. It’s been a week of novels, that’s the one constant, and each one of them has been impressive in it’s own way.

The week started with Kristen Hannah’s Firefly Lane, one of this very popular authors most popular books. It’s the story of a friendship, one that begins with two teenagers in the 1970’s and extends through time into the present day, with many ups and downs along the way. Reading it reminded me of my own life in so many ways – Hannah really gets to the heart of women’s relationships in a way I connect with every time.

I raced through all 400 odd pages of that one in no time, and turned to Prep, Curtis Sittenfeld’s microcosmic look at prep school life through the eyes of one very introspective, but cannily observant young woman. I thoroughly enjoy Sittenfeld’s writing style – loved American Wife, and love this one too. She sees deep into the internal workings of each character and their situation, and takes the reader there with her. Prep is taking me back to my high school years, but making me very happy I’m no longer a teenager!

This morning I found myself totally engaged in an unexpected reading pleasure. I stumbled upon a digital reading app for iPad called Subtext, which allows you to download books and engage in discussion with other readers and the author as you read. You can write comments on your reading (which you may choose to keep private or publish for others to read), and you’ll find links to other resources imbedded directly in the margin comments. You purchase books via Google Books or Kobo, and can get nice lengthy samples of every book in their digital library.

I spent the entire morning playing with this – which is quite something for me, since you all know I’m not a fan of eReading. But I actually think Subtext could change my opinion. It didn’t hurt that the book I downloaded is completely amazing. The Lotus Eaters, by Tatjana Soli, a novel about an American photographer in Saigon during the Vietnam war, is a stunning historical novel, and the author’s comments and additional resource material made reading the first chapter even more intriguing. Highly recommended. I encourage my reading friends to look into this app – it’s free to download, and extends the reading experience into a new dimension.

So with that, I’m back to reading. The weather here in Dallas is very strange – cold, dark, windy, and rainy. Perfect for curling up with a baby and a good book.

How about you? Has your reading impressed you this week?

The Sunday