Tatjana Soli (Website) wrote the wonderful “Lotus Eaters” (Review | Buy) – the story of a combat female photographer during the Vietnam War. Ms. Soli was kind enough to answer a few question about Vietnam, female combat photographers and social media among others.
All pictures in this post were provided by Ms. Soli including some from her amazing trip to Vietnam.
Q. Have you ever been to Vietnam? If so how was the experience?
A. I just recently went, and it was a wonderfully exciting trip on so many levels. First, I had read, researched, and imagined the place for so long that it had a deep resonance. When our guide recited history, I was able to add things that he was surprised I knew. Such as that the Communists crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace (Independence Palace) even though the side gate was wide open. A photo op. But when I asked him questions about current Vietnamese society, about how people feel about marriage, jobs, children, there were so many things I learned. It was just the best experience. There were moments in Saigon and further south in Can Tho that recalled parts of the book for me. Definitely a sense of deja vu. The feeling vanished when I was in the northern part of the country. Then I was just a tourist. So the reading and the imagining made parts of the trip very rich. But, of course, the novel is set during wartime, 35 years ago. A microcosm of time and place that is gone. Now half the population is under thirty years old. The country is rushing to modernize, to have prosperity. The “American War,” as they refer to it, is now only a chapter of history. After the truly unimaginable suffering during the war, and then in the post-war years, to see that kind of healing made me very hopeful.
Q. Do you think that the war the the same affect on the Vietnamese psyche as it did on the American psyche?
A.It had an entirely different effect on the two countries. That was one of my main motivations for writing the book. Yes, we are Americans, reading about a terribly painful war for Americans, heartbreaking individual tragedies, but there is a wider scope to the story that deserves to be told, for our own healing as well. Commonly accepted figures put American casualties at 58, 226. In the five years after the war, suicides by American veterans added an additional 9,000. For the Vietnamese, it’s 1.1 million combatants. But dig further. Vietnamese civilian casualties: 4 million. At the time it would have been equivalent to 13% of our population. No family in Vietnam went untouched. The war almost totally destroyed the country. What I heard over and over again by people who travelled there, what I found for myself, is that there is a remarkable lack of bitterness in the people against Americans. They love our culture, they want an affluent country like ours, and the past is as much as possible shrugged away.
Q. Have there been female combat photographers in Vietnam? What was their experience like?
A.There were only a handful. Two of the ones that most inspired me were Dickey Chapelle and Catherine Leroy. Now in Afghanistan and Iraq, fully a quarter of journalists there are female, but back then these women were definitely entering in a man’s world, a world they were not wanted, where they had to fight to remain. I admire these women enormously. But finally, as a novelist, the choice to tell a story through a woman’s perspective was because I wanted a unique viewpoint, an outsider’s look at the war.
Q. Do you use social media to promote your books? If so how do you find the experience?
A. This is my first novel so it’s all new to me. I’m still experimenting with what works. But the veteran authors I know tell me the world of publishing is changing as fast as they put out books. I love the grassroots feeling of the book blogs, such as your own. I think it levels the playing field compared to the old days of publishing. Real readers don’t care if a good book comes from a big New York publishing house or an indie house in someone’s basement. I also like that an author can so easily interact with readers through a website. I spend a fair amount of time keeping mine up — it’s really become an extension of the book, and it creates a more intimate connection than just looking at a book jacket.
Q. What are the challenges of book promotions in the social media age?
A. The challenge is knowing when to say “Enough!” To decide what works best for you. As I said, I love doing my website and blog. I love book blogs. The verdict is out on Facebook except that it’s such as great source of information. Twitter is my tilt. I just don’t do it regularly. But some authors are masters of the short, pithy message.
Shameless plug disguised as a wise ass question: Why do you love ManOfLaBook.com so much and often visit the website?
Wise Gal Answer: Obviously because you have good taste in who you interview. 🙂 Seriously, reading through your reviews, there is a sense that this is unfiltered. Grassroots. The book blogs work better in my opinion than other reviews because you get a sense of the blogger, and if you like their taste, you know future recommendations will probably work for you. It’s like having a really smart, funny book friend who is always ready to give you recommendations — priceless.
Thank you to Ms. Soli for these wonderful, informative and thoughtful answers.
Zohar – Man of La Book