Tag Archives: Tatjana Soli

Top Ten Books I Resolve to Read in 2013

There were dozens of fantastic new releases in 2012, but I fell far behind in reading them. Now, it’s time to catch up–as always, my New Year’s resolution for 2013 is to read more. (Do you expect anything less from me?)

Here are the top ten books I vow to read before this year’s end.

The Forgetting Tree10. The Forgetting Tree by Tatjana Soli
Haunting, tough, triumphant, and profound, The Forgetting Tree explores the intimate ties we have to one another, the deepest fears we keep to ourselves, and the calling of the land that ties every one of us together.

I loved Soli’s first novel, The Lotus Eaters, and can’t wait to see if she can repeat the magic.

Where'd You Go, Bernadette9. Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
Bernadette Fox is notorious. To her Microsoft-guru husband, she’s a fearlessly opinionated partner; to fellow private-school mothers in Seattle, she’s a disgrace; to design mavens, she’s a revolutionary architect, and to 15-year-old Bee, she is a best friend and, simply, Mom. Then Bernadette disappears. To find her mother, Bee compiles email messages, official documents, secret correspondence–creating a compulsively readable and touching novel about misplaced genius and a mother and daughter’s role in an absurd world.

The Lion Sleeps Tonight8. The Lion Sleeps Tonight by Rian Malan
The Lion Sleeps Tonight is Malan’s remarkable chronicle of South Africa’s halting, sometimes violent, steps and missteps, taken as blacks and whites try to build a new country. The collection comprises twenty-three pieces. . . . The stories, combined with Malan’s sardonic interstitial commentary, offer a brilliantly observed portrait of contemporary South Africa.

I’m planning on traveling to South Africa over the summer, and this will be one of several required readings.

The End of Your LIfe Book Club7. The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe
This is the inspiring true story of a son and his mother, who start a “book club” that brings them together as her life comes to a close. Their list jumps from classic to popular, from poetry to mysteries, from fantastic to spiritual. The issues they discuss include questions of faith and courage as well as everyday topics such as expressing gratitude and learning to listen. Throughout, they are constantly reminded of the power of books to comfort us, astonish us, teach us, and tell us what we need to do with our lives and in the world. Reading isn’t the opposite of doing; it’s the opposite of dying.

NW6. NW by Zadie Smith
Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners – Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan – as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end. Depicting the modern urban zone – familiar to town-dwellers everywhere – Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.

Contents May Have Shifted5. Contents May Have Shifted by Pam Houston
Stuck in a dead-end relationship, this fearless narrator leaves her metaphorical baggage behind and finds a comfort zone in the air, feeling safest with one plane ticket in her hand and another in her underwear drawer. She flies around the world, finding reasons to love life in dozens of far-flung places from Alaska to Bhutan. Along the way she weathers unplanned losses of altitude, air pressure, and landing gear. With the help of a squad of loyal, funny, wise friends and massage therapists, she learns to sort truth from self-deception, self-involvement from self-possession.

Dear Life4. Dear Life by Alice Munro
Alice Munro’s peerless ability to give us the essence of a life in often brief but always spacious and timeless stories is once again everywhere apparent in this brilliant new collection. In story after story, she illumines the moment a life is forever altered by a chance encounter or an action not taken, or by a simple twist of fate that turns a person out of his or her accustomed path and into a new way of being or thinking.

The Yellow Birds3. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers
In Al Tafar, Iraq, twenty-one-year old Private Bartle and eighteen-year-old Private Murphy cling to life as their platoon launches a bloody battle for the city. Bound together since basic training when Bartle makes a promise to bring Murphy safely home, the two have been dropped into a war neither is prepared for. With profound emotional insight, especially into the effects of a hidden war on mothers and families at home, The Yellow Birds is a groundbreaking novel that is destined to become a classic.

Arcadia2. Arcadia by Lauren Groff
In the fields of western New York State in the 1970s, a few dozen idealists set out to live off the land, founding what would become a commune centered on the grounds of a decaying mansion called Arcadia House. Arcadia follows this romantic, rollicking, and tragic utopian dream from its hopeful start through its heyday and after. With Arcadia, her first novel since her lauded debut, The Monsters of Templeton, Lauren Groff establishes herself not only as one of the most gifted young fiction writers at work today but also as one of our most accomplished literary artists.

The Boy Kings of Texas1. The Boy Kings of Texas by Domingo Martinez
A lyrical and authentic book that recounts the story of a border-town family in Brownsville, Texas in the 1980′s, as each member of the family desperately tries to assimilate and escape life on the border to become “real” Americans, even at the expense of their shared family history. This is really un-mined territory in the memoir genre that gives in-depth insight into a previously unexplored corner of America.

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Book Club Picks

I’ll admit, I’ve never been good about attending a book group. But I usually follow along, reading each selection in the quiet of my own home. So I’ve never before offered recommendations.

If I did, however, I would look for books that have a lot of complexity, so that there will be many angles to approach a discussion about the book. They also have to be memorable–the kind of books you can’t stop thinking about long after you’ve put them down.

10. The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears by Dinaw Mengestu
This is a quintessential D.C. book (my review here); more than simply preserving familiar sights, Mengestu captures the feeling of a D.C. community caught between two worlds, which would in itself make for very interesting discussion. But the main character’s experience—as an immigrant, a man, an American— and his place in society also leaves a lot open to interpretation.

9. Push by Sapphire
Push is not an easy book to read or even talk about. But it’s totally worth it. Sapphire exposes the pain of abuse and neglect, but more importantly, she presents a strong black heroine who takes her own life into her hands. This book came highly recommended from many of my friends, and it is guaranteed to get a reaction from book-group readers.

8. Holy Ghost Girl by Donna M. Johnson
In her memoir (my review here), Donna Johnson offers insight into the complexity of faith and why people choose to follow charismatic leaders, all without without being judgmental—a seemingly Herculean task that Johnson manages without even breaking into a literary sweat. Book group members will enjoy teasing out the complexity of the black-and-white world of big tent revivalists.

7. Faith by Jennifer Haigh
In Faith, Jennifer Haigh reveals an entangled world of secrets and beliefs, pain and joy, identity and desire, and the enduring ties of family and faith. She tackles a difficult topic, but she does so with grace and aplomb (my review here). This is a timely book that is sure to inspire a meaningful conversation.

6. Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Next to Love is moving and beautiful, rich with the pain and the joys of vivid and believable men and women (my review here). The book delicately handles sweeping topics such as war, love, grief, and equality, which almost certainly lead to a great conversation.

5. The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli
Tatjana Soli paints a vivid picture of 1960s Vietnam in The Lotus Eaters (my review here), and her prose reflects the jarring hardness of war, the allure of obsession, and the tenderness of love in turns. I think Soli’s exploration of the emotional and physical effects of the war on all sides—Vietnamese and American, soldier and civilian—would elicit strong reactions from all ages.

4. The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Brockmeier’s characters are painfully insightful and wonderfully human, and I think readers from all walks of life will identify with some, if not all, of them. (I did.) The journal that passes from person to person makes them greater than they were—a brilliance greater than their loneliness and pain.

3. Camp Nine by Vivienne R. Schiffer
In Camp Nine, Vivienne Schiffer shows readers a hidden side of the Delta, when racial tensions cracked the surface of a small town’s placid surface (my review here). Schiffer expertly teases out various themes of family and history in a world where little is forgotten, and her portrayal of the vast chasms within its society in the forties is fantastic. I think I would’ve enjoyed the novel even more if I’d discussed it in a group; it’s a short book, but there is a lot at play in the story.

2. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls’s account of her less-than-idyllic childhood is a must read, and I would love to get a group together to talk about this engaging memoir. Her story inspires pity and incredulity at some points and joy and optimism at others. This book was highly recommended by several women I know, and after I tore through it, I passed it on to other women, all of whom agree that Walls is a powerful storyteller. I’d love to hear a guy’s perspective, too.

1. The Personal History of Rachel DuPree by Ann Weisgarber
This book covers so much ground–race, class, women’s rights, war—without feeling sluggish or heavy. As I described it in my review, “It’s as though Little House on the Prairie grew up and developed a racially and culturally aware conscience.” Weisgarber offers many topics for discussion while also crafting a thoroughly enjoyable story.

Creating this list makes me wish I were a more active part of a book club. What do you think–should I finally start taking attendance seriously?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

I receive a very small commission when you purchase the book through the above links to Indiebound. Thank you for helping to support my site–and my book addiction!

Top Ten Tough Topics Tackled in Literature

This week, I’m highlighting some of my favorite works of fiction that address ten difficult social, cultural, and emotional issues. I’m sure I could think of many more books if I tried–”tough topics” are kind of my thing.

10. Bullying
Lauren Oliver’s Before I Fall is an excellent story about one girl who has the chance to change her life–in seven days. Oliver manages to take a self-centered bully and make her a completely sympathetic character by the end.

And I’ve mentioned before how much I love Daphne’s Book by Mary Downing Hahn; Hahn’s story of two girls forming an unlikely friendship is timeless.

9. Autism
Two books about autistic boys, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon and The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier, take very unique views of what an autistic child’s world looks like, and both are very convincing in their own ways. Not much is known about autism, but these books are a reminder that “developmental” issues and genius are relative.

8. September 11, 2001
I read Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer in college, and it has stuck with me through the years. Oskar is an intrepid and smart narrator, and his efforts to cope with the loss of his father in the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center are heartwarming and inspiring–and a tearjerker.

7. Poverty
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls manages to recount her rough childhood while avoiding any trace of self-pity. This book is a little dark at times, but I highly recommend it.

6. Aging
Anne Tyler effortlessly captures the minor details of a person that accumulate into who he or she is in her novels, and she does not fail me in Noah’s Compass. Liam, the main character, is confronted with an inevitable slide into old age, but the way he deals with it is charming and humorous.

Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway is, of course, a classic tale of aging. The old man faces his greatest challenge, and summons the courage to triumph over it despite his acknowledged weaknesses.

Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis is a rather unconventional entry for this category, but I found the book’s reverse-chronological order a fascinating study of memory and one man’s backward look on his life.

5. Racism
Often contested for its handling of race and slavery, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a humorous and satirical take on pre-Civil War society along the Mississippi River.

For a more modern exploration of African-American identity, struggles with racism, and the fight for civil rights, W. Ralph Eubanks’s Ever Is a Long Time is a fascinating read.

4. Addiction
I also mentioned recently that Go Ask Alice is one of my favorite books for its raw and unrelenting take on the rebellious life of a girl in the 1960s. It was recommended to a friend of mine going through rehab, and I can see why; the narrator’s battle with addiction feels very real in this fictionalized diary.

Addiction is just one of many serious topics to which Andre Dubus III turns his artistic genius in The House of Sand and Fog. Kathy, one of the main characters, finds herself returning to the addiction from which she had recently emerged when everything in her life seems to crumble. Yet Kathy inspires a great deal of empathy and even respect from her readers–a difficult but praiseworthy feat by Dubus.

3. Abduction
As abductions of young women sweep headlines–Jaycee Dugard‘s story is one of many in the past few years–I think we all crave insight into why such tragedies happen and how victims can survive them. And Emma Donoghue certainly delivers in Room, one of my favorite books ever.

But even fifteen years ago, I was fascinated with abduction stories. Caroline B. Cooney’s smart and courageous main character in The Face on the Milk Carton made a strong impression on me as a young reader–whenever I was scared that I, too, would be swept up by strangers (hey, I was only 11!), I just remembered how cool and level-headed Janie managed to be.

2. Rape
Push by Sapphire may now be considered a classic story of rape and incest. Sapphire handles these topics very well, pushing the reader right to the edge with graphic images and then pulling him or her back with Precious’s admirable determination and optimistic outlook.

Another book about the devastating effects of rape that left a strong impression on me is We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates’s prose meanders at times–I remember sighing in frustration as she spends an entire chapter chronicling the contents of the family’s cluttered hall–but her attention to detail pays off as she describes that family’s hurt and rage at the violence that struck once and left an indelible mark.

1. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
There are several books about war and PTSD that immediately come to mind when I think about masterful attempts to address difficult subjects. Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Catch-22 by Joseph Heller are, of course, classics in this field. But more recently, War by Sebastian Junger and The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli have also proved to be stunning and delicate glimpses of the lasting effects of conflict.

What about you–what books do you think have handled difficult issues well?

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly feature created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each Tuesday, bloggers create top ten lists about reading, writing, blogging, and more!

“The Lotus Eaters” by Tatjana Soli

Title: The Lotus Eaters
Author: Tatjana Soli
ISBN: 9780312611576
Pages: 400
Release date: March 30, 2010
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Fiction
Format: Hardcover
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Summary

For the past ten years, Helen Adams has devoted her life to covering the Vietnam War.

When she first arrived in Vietnam in 1965, Helen’s only encounter with war had been her father’s tales of the Korean War and her brother’s letters home, and her only experience with photography was a high school class. Against all odds—and under the mentorship of the famed Sam Darrow—Helen begins to make a name for herself as the war’s first female photojournalist.

As Helen embarks on a passionate affair with Darrow, she also falls in love with Vietnam and its people. Helen begins pressuring Darrow to leave with her and begin a new, safe life together in the States. But Darrow’s work consumes him, and he continues to push the limitations of luck. When tragedy befalls the couple, Helen abandons the idea of leaving the war and pours herself into her work with greater passion than ever before.

Helen becomes hardened to the senseless violence that she obsessively captures on film:

Before, there had been this small, shiny thing inside her that had kept her immune from what was happening, and now she knew it had only been her ignorance, and she felt herself falling into a deep, dark place.

As she becomes more invested in her work and the lush country surrounding her, Helen becomes more detached from others and herself.

Linh, a stoic Vietnamese man who hides behind his own immense sorrow, is attracted to this beautiful and broken foreigner. After the destruction of his village, Linh wrapped himself in the memories of those he lost, becoming extremely isolated even in the bustling streets of Saigon. Even if he could reach past the barriers Helen has erected, could he betray the loved ones who continue to haunt him?

After long years of conflict, the Americans begin withdrawing from Saigon, and Helen struggles with the decision to go “home” to Southern California or to stay and document the momentous takeover of Vietnam’s capital by the North Vietnamese Army.

Analysis

The Lotus Eaters explores love and obsession, fear and fulfillment, belonging and betrayal. Soli’s tight prose reflects the jarring hardness of war, the allure of obsession, and the tenderness of love in turns.

At times, Soli’s prose is lean and to the point, as when she introduces Linh: “Once there was a soldier named Linh who did not want to go back to war.” However, her prose is far from simple; her description of Linh’s physical and emotional loneliness is pure poetry:

One came to love another through repeated touch, he believed, the way a mother bonded with her newborn, the way his family had slept in the communal room, brushing against one another, the patterning through nerve endings, a laying of pulse against pulse, creating a rhythm of blood, and so now he touched others, strangers, only fleetingly, without hope.

Ironically, Linh is an outsider in his country’s war; he observes but takes as little a part as possible in the Vietnamese and American sides of the conflict. Linh’s mixed allegiance—to the SVA and NVA; to his bosses, Helen and Darrow; to his former and future loves—reflects the tumultuous and undefinable conflict around them. Linh serves as an embodiment of the Vietnamese people, torn between two sides and hoping only to forget the pain that has descended upon their lives.

Soli does a great job of capturing the long hot boredom and the sudden action of war. But between battle scenes, she also paints a vivid picture of Vietnam:

The air boiled hot and opaque, the sky a hard, saline blue. For miles the black mangrove swamp spread like a stagnant ocean, clotted, arthritic. Farther on they passed the swollen tributaries of the Mekong. Papaya, grapefruit, water palm, mangosteen, orange—fruit of every variety grew in abundance, dropping with heavy thuds on the ground to burst in hot flower in the sun.

Helen is an intriguing main character. Her addiction to Vietnam, to the danger of covering a foreign war for ten long years, is a mystery that is slowly unwrapped in layers. She struggles to deal with loss in her life by pushing deeper and deeper into the war, but she only puts herself in more danger. When Linh arranges for Helen to photograph the Ho Chi Minh trail, Helen’s pain and grief transforms into something timeless:

After three days, Helen no longer thought of the crooked apartment or Saigon. Even Darrow changed from a pain outside, inflicted, to something inside, a tumor, with only its promise of future suffering. The fastness of the jungle struck her again in all its extraordinary voluptuousness, its wanton excess. It enchanted. Time rolled in long green distances, and she took comfort in the fact that the land would outlast them, would outlast the war—would outlast time itself.

Helen’s journey becomes more than simply covering conflict; she falls in love with a land and its people, and these are perhaps the only things that can save her.

Soli’s exploration of the emotional and physical effects of the war on all sides—Vietnamese and American, soldier and civilian—delivers a simultaneously heartwrenching and heartwarming story. The prose can be terse and jarring at times, but that only serves to reinforce the atmosphere of war around the characters. At other times, the descriptions are sumptuous and enveloping to reflect the characters’ amorous or nostalgic feelings.

This book was a solid and enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in Vietnam and its conflicts.

Jack also reviewed a novel about the Vietnam War recently, Matterhorn.

For more reviews of The Lotus Eaters, check out all the tour stops!

Thankfully Reading

Thursday, November 25, 2010

2:15 p.m.
OK, so I know the Thankfully Reading weekend doesn’t officially start ’til tomorrow. But since Jack and I won’t be celebrating Thanksgiving until tomorrow, I decided to get a head start today. Hey, there are no rules, right??

The day before yesterday, I began reading The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli, and so far I’m enjoying it quite a bit. Since our next vacation will be to Thailand in February, my to-read list has tilted more toward South Asian literature; later I’m going to check out S. Krishna’s review database for recommendations!

I’m also working on several reviews this weekend; I’ve really gotten behind over the last few weeks due to several unexpected events. (More on that another time.) I promise, in December I’ll be much better.

But for now, I’m back to reading!

5:00 p.m.
I took a short break from reading to take Tink for a walk before the sun set. We let her off the leash in the woods for the first time today, and she enjoyed herself quite a bit.

Now I’m back to reading. I’m also plugging through Perspectives on Social Media Marketing today when I need breaks from The Lotus Eaters. What different books they are! But both good in their own right.

Friday, November 26, 2010

5:30 p.m.
As I guessed, I wasn’t able to do as much reading today. But Thanksgiving dinner was delightful! And I was able to sneak away for a bit; The Lotus Eaters was calling my name.

I doubt I’ll get much further in it tonight, though, with the Washington Capitals on (C-A-P-S Caps Caps Caps!) and a party to attend tonight. But I’ll be sure to check in tomorrow!