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?
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 email@example.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)
Book 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.