Jan 21, 2011

Author Interview and Book Giveaway: Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters

Author Tatjana Soli, author, discusses her novel about photographers and what they experienced covering the Vietnam War, in the New York Times bestseller, The Lotus Eaters: A Novel.

Welcome, Tatjana.

Q:  Can you tell us about the research you made in order to write the book? How long did it take and what are the different things you had to do?

Tatjana:  I had been obsessed with the war for a very long time in terms of understanding it for myself. I had read all the major works of fiction and journalism that are considered important, seen all the movies and documentaries. But when I decided that I would tackle writing about the war, I really immersed myself in non-fiction because it was absolutely essential to get the details right — so many people have experienced the war first-hand and it had to be credible to them.

That said, the factual history was only the starting point. As intellectually interesting as it might be, as a storyteller, you need to bring the experience to your reader— that is paramount. You need to give facts meaning, otherwise the scale of the pain and destruction in war become numbing. So part of this was also learning about the long history of Vietnam, how the culture was structured, who the people are, in order to have a sense of what was destroyed.

I think I spent about a year and a half taking notes, living out this experience in my imagination. Although ultimately, little of it made its way into the book, I studied aspects of Vietnam the way an actor does sense-memory exercises: I ate the food, listened to the music, read poetry, even tried in my miserable way to learn a little of the language. A tonal language that is beyond difficult. If nothing else, it kept the novel alive for me while I was writing it.

Q: What made you become interested in the Vietnam War, this period of history?

My mother and I lived on Ford Ord military base for two years in the late sixties, so the military experience had imprinted itself on me although I was a young child. I had frightening memories and had this real longing to understand what had happened. I think in the bigger context, Vietnam can stand in for all wars, especially conflicts that we are in today. So it is a remarkably topical subject at this moment in our history. I was also fascinated by the huge role journalists played in exposing the lies we were being told about the war, how they turned public opinion. Before Vietnam, much war coverage was in the service of boosterism, of making the public patriotic and supportive of the wars we were engaged in.

Q: The war is controversial. How do you feel about it, looking back in history? Did your research change your mind about how you felt before writing the book?

When I started to write the book, my memories of the pain endured by our soldiers and their families was really foremost in my mind. Helen’s family has been torn apart by her father and brother dying in two different wars. But as I learned more about Vietnam, my frame of reference expanded. We lost 58,000 soldiers and another 9,000 veterans to suicide in the five years after the war. I emphasize that because the war destroyed so many lives, even if they survived combat. A huge toll. Not to mention the disservice done to many of the returning soldiers who were made into scapegoats for an unpopular war. But the Vietnamese lost 1.5 million combatants; 4 million civilians were killed. The only war that the US was similarly affected by was the Civil War. Every Vietnamese family suffered loss; their lands were destroyed. For me this knowledge cured some of the myopia that is natural when dealing with people and cultures that you don’t know. Vietnam was more than just a blank battlefield. The war was more than just an American tragedy.

Q:  Are you currently working on another book?

I have finished a second novel that will be published in 2012. A big departure from The Lotus Eaters, it is set in contemporary Southern California, on a citrus ranch, and involves a ranching woman and a girl who she hires to take care of her. I like to describe it as a novel involving two very dangerous female characters, an orange grove, and voodoo.

Q: How can readers reach you?

Through my website, or tatjana@tatjanasoli.com. I love to hear from readers, and I also am open to speaking to book clubs, either in person if local to Southern California, or by phone or Skype.

Tatjani's website is www.tatjanasoli.com/TatjanaSoliAuthor.html. A novelist and award-winning short story writer born in Austria, she attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program. She lives in California and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop.

(What is the book about? Click on the link for my review of The Lotus Eaters)

The Lotus Eaters: A NovelBook Giveaway: The publisher has agreed to give away a copy of The Lotus Eaters: A Novel to readers of each TLC book tour participant. U.S. residents only, no P.O. boxes, please.

To enter, leave a comment on what interested you about the book review below or about Tatjana's discussion, and include your email address! The giveaway will run through Feb. 15. The book will be sent through TLC by the publisher.

UPDATE: The giveaway winner is Suzanne of CT.


Jo-Jo said...

I would love a chance to win this book! It sounds like it gives a lot of information about the Vietnam controversy, which I really do not know a lot about.
joannelong74 AT gmail DOT com

Anonymous said...

A thoughtful and thought-provoking interview. Would love a copy of the book. Her next novel sounds very intriguing! Love the "dangerous" female character reference!

Laura Reese

LisaMM said...

Fantastic interview! I loved THe Lotus Eaters and her new one sounds really good, too! Thanks so much for sharing this interview with your readers!

Elise said...

Wow..I never realized how many soldiers were lost to suicide even if they survived the war. And I am amazed at how much research went into the book, shows how dedicated Tatjana is as an author. Her 2012 book sounds promising as well! Thanks for the eye opening interview. Can't wait to read your book!
I follow via GFC. Thanks for the giveaway!
caliblue7 at gmail dot com

Tiffany Drew said...

I am really looking forward to reading this book. It sounds very informative and yet very interesting. I do not know much about The Vietnam War so this would be very new to me to read about. Thank you for the chance.


Jodi Webb said...

So often when we think about wars we think about soldiers. It would be interesting to see war through a noncombatant's eyes.

webbJM AT verizon DOT net

Linda Kish said...

She lived on Fort Ord in the late 60s. I remember visiting the base in the late 60s. She did so much research on the Vietnam war. That must have been hard. It was such a tough time.

lkish77123 at gmail dot com

Jessica M said...

What a wonderful interview! I am definitely looking forward to reading The Lotus Eaters. It was interesting to read that Tatjana's interest in the Vietnam War came from her own experiences living on Fort Ord; my father was in the military and I know that living on the military bases makes a huge impact on you, and I've been to Fort Ord as well.

Thanks for the giveaway opportunity!

jmartinez0415 [at] gmail [dot] com

Suzanne Yester said...

Wonderful interview! I thought it was very interesting how living on the military base in the 60's made such a lasting impression that the result was The Lotus Eaters!

Would love to know if Tatjana Soli thought it was easier to tell her story through the eyes of the photographers or if there was another reason to have the photographers as the protagonists?

Would love to win a copy of The Lotus Eaters! Thanks for hosting the giveaway!

quzy (at) mac.com

Gwendolyn B. said...

Terrific interview! I grew up during the Vietnam War, so I do have a personal perspective of events. But I've only recently become interested in reading fictional accounts. Definitely putting THE LOTUS EATERS on my reading list, and thanks for the chance to win a copy.

Harvee said...

Gwendolyn: What's your email address for the entry?

Unknown said...

I've read many rave reviews of The Lotus Eaters and want to read the book. I don't know a lot about the Vietnam War and really appreciate all of the research Ms. Soli did for this book. I imagine alot of it was hard to read. War is extremely destructive & painful on many levels.

I really enjoyed reading this interview. Thank you!


Jenny Q said...

I really want to read this one! Please enter me: JDQ1175@aol.com

nfmgirl said...

I already have this book on my Wish List, but her new book for 2012 sounds just as awesome! Please count me in. Thank you!

nfmgirl AT gmail DOT com

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