Review of The Lotus and the Storm by Lan Cao

Posted by in netgalley copy

I really loathe the word resplendent. The Lotus and the Storm uses resplendent three times. That may be enough to tell you what I thought of the book.

There are spoilers below. Proceed warily.

The Lotus and the Storm is essentially the mirror of The Sympathizer, which I read a few months ago (also a Netgalley copy). Whereas The Sympathizer gave us the Viet-cong mole perspective, The Lotus and the Storm gives us the South Vietnamese military perspective. Okay. So we're in and out of Vietnam, future in Virginia, back and forth. Typical immigrant/war narrative.

For me, this book had problems: Characters in the narrative seem to be talking to someone who isn't there (one of my notes-in-the-margins is Who is he talking to?), giving lengthy explanations about background that they would already know themselves and would have no need to elaborate on for themselves. A letter detailing a death just so happens to have a lengthy and fortuitous amount of information required to advance the plot. A child uses the term "subcutaneous tissue" (although, growing up in a war zone, this might enter common parlance out of necessity). Someone is secretly a spy -- revealed in as Dramatic A Way as possible.

So a whole suspension of disbelief is required from the reader throughout the entire novel. I think a lot of this story is based on the truth, but I don't believe the story. If it's true, if these things happened, but is written in such a way that obscures the truth, I think that's a problem.

And the big problem (and a big spoiler here): The narrative jumps between different characters points-of-view. About two-thirds in, we are introduced to a new narrative voice, as we find out that one of the main characters has multiple personalities, and our additional narrator is one of these personalities!

Other people loved this book, the ostentatious writing style, the twists, the emotional wrenching. I did not. For me, it was a slog.

The Lotus and the Storm by Lan Cao went on sale August 14, 2014.

I received a copy free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.