Friday, February 4, 2011

An evening with Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters



This past Thursday was a big night for Books, Babes and Bordeaux, one of my book clubs...we were going to have our very first call-in from an author. We had chosen "The Lotus Eaters" as our January selection based on my gentle encouragement, and were thrilled when the author, Tatjana Soli, agreed to chat with us about it.

Normally, our book club meets at a local restaurant and generally imbibes in a bit of wine (hence our name). This time, in order for us to have access to a speakerphone and little background noise, we met at Marianne's house, and we all brought appetizers and wine. The highlight was Marianne's Vietnamese Egg Rolls, and Heather's Banana Bread with chocolate chips! Side note: this worked out so well, we are meeting at someone else's house next month.

Before Tatjana called in, we chatted about the book. It was universally loved overall, although we all agreed that the book required you to be diligent through the first chapter or two. Once we were past that, we couldn't lay the book down. One member wanted more from the ending, and a couple others questioned whether Helen (the main character) ever truly loved either of her men. We all agreed that Vietnam, the country and it's people, burst into life with Tatjana's talented prose.

Then the focus was on Tatjana, and what she had to say. She was extremely easy-going, forthright, and honest. She charmed us all. Here are some of the things we discussed:

Her muse for the book: Tatjana spent much of her young life around soldiers on military bases. Many of them left for Vietnam and never came back, others came back with horrific stories. There was a whole mystique to these men and their experiences, and the seeds were sown.

Her inspiration for the character of Helen: There were two well-known female photographers in Vietnam that Tatjana researched to find a basis for Helen. The first was Catherine Leroy, a French-born photographer whose pictures graced the covers of Life and other publications, many of them winning awards.
























The second female photographer that inspired Tatjana was Dickey Chapelle, who started her career in WWII as a war correspondent, and ended with Vietnam, when she was tragically killed by shrapnel.






















Inspiration for Helen's iconic photo: For those of you who have read the book, Helen was officially recognized for her photography after she endangered her life by capturing the execution of a seemingly harmless old man. This photo was a tip of the hat to the famous Eddie Adams photo that all of America has seen:

















Say what? Did you know that Tatjana has never visited Vietnam? Which was shocking to all of us, since her imagery in the book is so vivid and intense. While she had been originally scheduled to make the trip, it was cancelled because of a family emergency, and never re-booked. Tatjana instead relied on the pictures in her mind's eye taken from photos, film, and her imagination. She nailed it though, according to the Vietnam Vets who have read her book.

On the journey: Tatjana was steadfast in her mission to write this book. The road was not easy however, and it took approximately 10 years to progress from idea to publication. She endured a couple of years of research, alot of writing, and re-writing, hearing that the book would never fly, and was turned down by everyone. "Women don't want to read about war (???) and men don't want to read about a female photojournalist." She thought it was never going to happen. It has to make her feel justified when someone like Tim O'Brien actually blurbed her!

Any talk of a movie? Not so far, according to Tatjana. She didn't want to hazard a guess on casting. I couldn't seem to get past the movie "The Killing Fields", and with my computer in hand, pitched Sam Waterston as Darrow and Haing S. Ngor as Linh. But who would play Helen? Most of us thought Helen Hunt might work, although she isn't aging well. As you can see, by this point, we were having way too much fun! I personally think this book would be a phenomenal movie.

Current projects? Tatjana is currently working on a book about a citrus farm in Southern California, tentatively named "The Wilding Tree", due Spring 2012. Our book club will be the first in line.

Tatjana's favorite books? It is always fun to hear what amazing writers are reading. She immensely enjoyed both "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson and "Wide Sargasso Sea" by Jean Rhys. She also recently discovered and adored "A Visit From the Goon Squad" by Jennifer Egan. We were so influenced by her passion for these books, we decided that the February book club pick would be "Housekeeping".


Overall, it was a wonderful evening, and we were all very appreciative for the time and energy that Tatjana gave to our group of readers, considering how busy she is with her book tour. We all agreed that it is one thing to read a book, but another thing completely to get the author's perspective, and enjoy her warm personality and passion for her subject.

If you haven't yet read "The Lotus Eaters", you need to make this a priority. I even placed it on my top reads of 2010. I guarantee, you will not be disappointed!


23 comments:

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

I loved this book! It was so good. Great discussion post. When I read it I thought of Kim Raver as Helen. She is the actress playing Teddy on Grey's Anatomy. I always think of Helen and the book when I see her.

JoAnn said...

What a fantastic evening - can't believe she has never visited Vietnam! I'm adding this to my list. Thanks, Sandy.

Zibilee said...

I was so amazed that she had never visited Vietnam and think that her perspective on the scenery and people was dead on. I also can't believe that no one has yet spoken to her about a movie version. Lets hope that gets resolved quickly! I did think she was an amazing conversationalist, and was so glad that she was so friendly and open with all of us. She also has great taste in books, and I can't wait to see what we think of Housekeeping. This was a wonderful and informative post, Sandy! You really know how to impart all the juicy bits!

caite said...

your "gentle encouragement"..I wonder about that..like jumping up and down or threatening to hold your breathe? lol

This is not a book I might usually thing I would like, but you have me convinced I should try it.
We will see. ;-)

LisaMM said...

Fantastic post.. what a great meeting! You wrapped it all up so nicely too- you must have been taking thorough notes. I love an author's unique perspective on a book and always jump at the chance for my book club to chat with an author. Thanks so much for sharing! Now you've got me thinking about actresses that could play Helen. Every time I try to think about that I see Tatjana in the role!

LisaMM said...

You and Heather are in the same book club together??!! I did not know that!

Word Lily said...

What fun, to chat with the author! I agree, this is a great book. I quite enjoyed it.

Man of la Books said...

I really enjoyed this book as well. It's always great when an author chimes in about their book.

Here are my thoughts about the Lotus Eaters: http://manoflabook.com/wp/?p=988

rhapsodyinbooks said...

Thanks so much for sharing all the info. If you could only share the wine and the banana cake as well, it would be perfect!

bermudaonion said...

I am so jealous that you and Heather are in a book club together! What an awesome group and what a fun meeting!

Julie P. said...

Ok. OK.... I get the subtle hint that I need to read this book.

Amy said...

I haven't read The Lotus Eaters yet but it's on my list and, after this awesome post, I've moved it way up very close to the top! You and Tatjana gave us some great info here including the very surprising fact of how long it took to get her work published & on her shelves, It's unbelievably annoying that she was told women don't want to read about war!

I'm thrilled that Housekeeping is one of her favorite books and you're club is going to read it next. I have in my TBR stack & so want to read it.

And, btw, Heather's Banana Bread sounds delicious!
~ Amy

Alyce said...

I enjoyed reading this post so much! I too am surprised that she hasn't visited Vietnam. Of course I haven't either, but her descriptions were incredibly vivid as far as I could tell.

And the part about women not wanting to read about war is just crazy!

Iliana said...

What fun! I think it's so wonderful when authors take the time to "meet" with their readers. I definitely want to read this book!

Jenners said...

Thanks for this wrap-up ... I felt like I got to be there. The more I hear about this book, the more I feel that I MUST read it. And I wish I lived down in FL so I could be a part of your wonderful book club.

Beth F said...

How great to have the author call in and your book club sounds like so much fun. And, okay, I'll dig my copy out and give this a read.

Frances said...

What a great opportunity, Sandy! The book was really memorable and perhaps even more so for you and yours now that you have that personal connection. And Housekeeping is a great choice for book club! I want to re-read it now just thinking about it.

farmlanebooks said...

Your enthusiam for this book keeps jumping up at me! It sounds as though you had a great evening, although I wasn't a fan of Housekeeping and so that worries me slightly.

The Lotus Eaters is next on my reading pile. I'm really looking forward to it.

Melody said...

I loved this book! Thanks so much for sharing this post with us!

Anna said...

What a great experience! I loved The Lotus Eaters, too, and look forward to her next book.

Kathleen said...

How gracious of the author to participate with you all. Sounds like you got some great insight from her. I can't imagine that she didn't even visit Vietnam and yet nailed the setting so well. This is already on my list to read and I'm looking forward to it.

patebooks said...

I have had Lotus Eaters on my TBR list for some time. Now it will move to the top. Thanks!

Alice Teh said...

Love the pictures. Love the text. The only thing I need to fix now is read the book. I was at Borders so many times I lost count. And yet, I followed my book-buying ban and didn't buy this book no matter how many times I held it in my hands. Yes, I'll make it my priority, Sandy. I will do what you want us to do. :D