The Lotus and the Storm
Reviews and Media for The Lotus and The Storm
The Lotus and the Storm is a novel about war and its casualties. On one level, it chronicles the downfall of a country marred by political intrigue and ravaged by a war fought on its land but controlled and managed elsewhere. On a more personal level, it is a deeply intimate story about love and longing, deception and betrayal, and trauma and madness. But most of all, it is about loss of country and the deep imprints this loss has on its children’s lives, in ways that ripple across time and space.
The novel tells the story of a family whose lives are inextricably bound to and altered by the tragic events that led to the fall of Saigon. The chapters alternate between the life of a once decorated soldier, now weak and ailing, in his home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington D.C. and that of his daughter, Mai, who grew up in Saigon’s twin city, Cholon.
The book opens in 1963, in the bustling commercial district of Cholon. Vietnam is at a historical turning point. Under the watchful eye of a faithful old Chinese nanny, Mai carves out a safe and wondrous existence of childhood innocence unaffected by the events taking place on the outside. It is an existence vicariously lived through her sister, her love and constant companion. Timid and unadventurous, Mai gives herself completely over to her older sibling’s whims and impulses. Together they immerse in the world of hide and seek and explore the forbidden labyrinth of crooked alleys of the Chinese town. They befriend an American soldier who shares rock and roll music with them. On special evenings, their mother reads Arabian nights and other bedtime stories to them. Occasionally, their mother’s brother, a Vietcong, visits and the family is confronted on a personal level with the Vietcong’s agenda of anti-foreign, especially anti-American and anti-Chinese nationalism. Despite the presence of war and family divisions, their lives are normal until several explosive events shatter the family and the country.
The story of her father, the South Vietnamese soldier, begins in 2006 when the US is in the thick of another prolonged armed conflict. From his bed, the soldier relives his battles in Saigon, Cambodia, and Hue as the television switches between scenes of fighting in Baghdad and Basra. Old wounds reopen. And he is flooded with sudden memories of a distant life, one that included a beloved wife and a country – his country. Day by day, he unravels the story of his life through its most defining moments: from the assassination of President Diem in 1963, an event that set the stage for the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and the official entry of the United States into the war in 1965; the Tet Offensive in 1968; the Peace Accords in 1973; the eventual downfall of his country in 1975; and the post-war ordeal faced by the boat people and other South Vietnamese left behind after the Americans left. Each event is punctuated by irreparable personal loss. His is a story of lost innocence, of broken promises, and of sudden reversals in love and war.
The father’s story, which is recounted in present day Virginia, goes backward in time to his life in Vietnam. Mai’s, which starts in 1960s Vietnam, moves forward in time to her life in the United States after South Vietnam fell to the Communist North. Both father and daughter live in the present day in 2006 in Virginia and its Little Saigon enclave. It is there that both continue their daily struggles to nurse old wounds and rebuild new lives with quiet patience and forbearance. Both manage their shattered lives in different ways. One cannot let go of the past but at the end of his life somehow finds forgiveness – of self as well as of others. The other tries to let go of a splintered past by forging ahead with half a life that seemingly reflects the American Dream. In the end, the Lotus and the Storm is a tale of people who rebuild their lives in the aftermath of war and broken promises. Despite pain and loss, they find an inner strength that restores their capacity to forgive, to love, and to live.
The Lotus and the Storm moves forward with a plot that is filled with action but is also deeply reflective about how one makes one’s way through the discordance of life in search of home and peace.
Ruth Ozeki, author of A TALE FOR THE TIME BEING, 2014 Los Angeles Times Book Prize Winner (Fiction), 2013 Man Booker Prize shortlist, 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award (Fiction) shortlist
A profoundly moving novel about the shattering effects of war on a young girl, her family, and her country. In sensuous and searing detail, Lan Cao brings Saigon’s past vividly to life through the eyes of her child narrator, Mai, following the girl and her father halfway around the world, to a suburb in Virginia, where forty years later, Mai’s trauma unravels. In this fractured world where old wars, loves and losses live on, The Lotus and the Storm is a passionate testament to the truth that the past is the present—inseparable, inescapable, enduring.
From Khaled Hosseini, Author of The Kite Runner; A Thousand Splendid Suns; And the Mountains Echoed
The Lotus and the Storm is part beautiful family saga, part coming of age story, part love story, but above all a searing indictment of the American campaign in Vietnam and its incalculable toll on generations past and future. A powerful read from start to end.
From Robert Olen Butler, 1993 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain
Lan Cao is not just one of the finest of the American writers who spring from and profoundly understand the war in Vietnam and the Vietnamese diaspora. She is certainly that. She is also one of our finest American writers. Period. The Lotus and the Storm is a brilliant novel that illuminates the human condition shared by us all.
From Bharati Mukherjee, 1988 Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Middleman and Other Stories
A heart-wrenching and heartwarming epic about war and love, hurt and healing, losing and rediscovering homelands. Through the mesmerizing voices of a Vietnamese-born father and his daughter resettled in Virginia’s “Little Saigon” after the fall of Saigon, Lan Cao dramatizes landmark battles in the Vietnam War and the toll such battles take on winners and losers. The Lotus and The Storm establishes Lan Cao as a world class writer.