The Lotus Eaters

Gotham teacher Tatjana Soli has just seen the release of her novel The Lotus Eaters. Helen Adams is a photographer covering the Vietnam War—addicted to the rush, horrified by the ruin. And she is torn between two men—a Vietnamese soldier who has lost everything and her jaded Pulitzer-winning mentor. The novel has earned rave reviews, including one from the New York Times Book Review, and Tim O’Brien, author of the Vietnam classic The Things They Carried, says the novel “draws the reader into a haunting world of war, betrayal, courage, obsession, and love.”

Here’s a glimpse of the opening:

April 28, 1975

The city teetered in a dream state. Helen walked down the deserted street. The quiet was eerie. Time running out. A long-handled barber’s razor, cradled in the nest of its strop, lay on the ground, the blade’s metal grabbing the sun. Unable to resist, she leaned down to pick it up, afraid someone would split his foot open running across it. A crashing noise down the street distracted her — dogs overturning garbage cans — and she snatched blindly at the razor. Drawing her hand back, a bright pinprick of blood swelling on her finger. She cursed at her stupidity and kicked the razor, strop and all, to the side of the road and hurried on.
The unnatural silence allowed Helen to hear the wailing of the girl. The child’s howl was high and breathless, defiant, rising, alone and forlorn against the buildings, threading its way through the air, a long, plaintive note spreading its complaint. Helen crossed the alley and went around a corner to see a small child of three or four, hard to tell with the unrelenting malnourishment, standing against the padlocked doorway of a bar. Her face and hair drenched with the effort of her crying. She wore a dirty yellow cotton shirt sizes too large, bottom bare, no shoes. Dirt circled between her toes.
The pitiful scene begged a photo. Helen hesitated, hoping an adult would come out of a doorway to rescue the child. She only had days or hours left in-country. Breathless, the girl staggered a few steps forward to the curb, eyes flooded in tears, when a man on a bicycle flew around the corner, pedaling at a furious speed, clipping the curb and almost running her down. Helen lurched forward without thinking, grabbed the girl’s arm and pulled her back, speaking quickly in fluent Vietnamese: “Little girl, where is Mama?”
The child hardly looked at her, the small body wracked with sobs. Helen’s throat constricted. A mistake, stopping. A pact made to herself that at this late date she wouldn’t get involved. The street rolled away in each direction, empty. No woman approached them.
Tired, Helen knelt down so she was at eye level to the child. In a headlong lunge, the girl wrapped both arms around Helen’s neck. Her cries quieted to soft cooing.
“What’s your name, honey?”
No answer.
“Should I take you home? Home? To Mama? Where do you live?”
Rested, the girl began to sob again with more energy, fresh tears.
No good deed goes unpunished. The camera bag pulled heavy and bulky. As she held the girl, walking up and down the street to flag attention, it knocked against her hip. She slipped the shoulder strap off and set it down on the ground, all the while talking under her breath to herself: What are you doing? What are you doing? What are you doing? The child was surprisingly heavy, although Helen could feel ribs and the sharp, pinionlike bones of shoulder blades. The legs that wrapped viselike around Helen’s waist were sticky, a strong scent of urine filling her nostrils.
A stab of impatience. “I’ve got to go, sweetie. Where is Mama?”

Reprinted by permission of St. Martin’s Press.  For more information on Tatjana and her book, visit:  Buy the book online at