The Librarian’s Choice: February


February’s choice is a romance novel most obviously because Valentine’s day is in February. But, to be contrary, it’s not your typical love story.

The Lotus Eater’s by Tatjana Soli opens  in 1975 as Saigon falls to North Vietnam. Helen, the protagonist, is a photojournalist from the West staying in Saigon to capture the devastation of the war. But now she must find her way out of the country whose destruction she has become so attached to.

A love-triangle between Helen, Sam Darrow; a prize-winning photojournalist, and Linh; his Vietnamese assistant, necessitates over a scorched Saigon.

This novel steals it’s name from Homer’s Odyssey, where the lotus eaters live on an island grown over with  narcotic lotus flowers. Apathy and euphoria from the flowers ensures they never leave the island.

In the same vein, the novel is about addiction. Helen’s identity as a photojournalist puts forward the question: does photojournalism help to create a public anti-war sentiment because it portrays the gruesomeness and futility of it; or does it merely feed into people’s macabre addiction to death and violence? In the same way, each of the three characters find it immensely difficult to leave their lives in, and their addiction to, war-wrangled Saigon (their source of income and living like the lotus fruit of Homer’s islanders) and also, to let go of each other with whom they’ve shared that addiction.