The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli

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Source: St. Martin’s Press and TLC Book Tours
Hardcover, 320 pgs
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The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli is about learning how to change direction when the path you’re on no longer suits, makes you miserable, or merely a new opportunity presents itself.  Part environmental cause, part journey to happiness, Soli creates a multilayered story with deeply flawed characters who not only create havoc in their own lives but in the lives of others.  She brings to life the dream many corporate drones dream of, running away to paradise, but even that is fraught with contradiction and disappointment.

“As was her new habit, Ann got up early and walked to the far side of the island where the camera was.  She sat behind it and stared at the view that it stared at, a veritable Alice behind the looking glass.  It was the real thing and its abstraction.  She felt she was on the verge of some grand truth while being suckered at the same time.” (page 150 ARC)

Ann and her husband, Richard, must face the reality that their business partnership with Javi, El Gusano, is a pipe dream dragged down by their philandering, spendthrift partner who expects their assets to shoulder the debt burden.  As they flee Los Angeles in search of an escape, they end up on an island near Tahiti with no WI-Fi or outside connections.  Soli examines the idea of perception — the view we have of our lives as we live them and the view that we have of those lives when on vacation or examining our chosen path.  The two views either can be nearly identical or they can be vastly different.  It is up to ourselves to change the courses we choose and to create the lives we want.  While there will always be an obstacle that challenges us, we must be inured to rise up and take the horse by the reins.

The irony of The Last Good Paradise is that the only paradise we will have is the one we make ourselves.  It is not a place that can be arrived at by plane, bus, or train, but a sense of peace from within ourselves that must be fought for and cultivated over time.

About the Author:

TATJANA SOLI lives with her husband in Southern California. Her New York Times bestselling debut novel, The Lotus Eaters, won the 2011 James Tait Black Prize, was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and a New York Times Notable Book. Her stories have appeared inBoulevard, The Sun, StoryQuarterly, Confrontation, Gulf Coast, Other Voices, Third Coast, Sonora Review and North Dakota Quarterly. Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories.

Mailbox Monday #302

Mailbox Monday, created by Marcia at To Be Continued, formerly The Printed Page, has a permanent home at its own blog.

To check out what everyone has received over the last week, visit the blog and check out the links.  Leave yours too.

Also, each week, Leslie, Vicki, and I will share the Books that Caught Our Eye from everyone’s weekly links.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Around the World in 450 Recipes, edited by Sarah Ainley from the book club gift exchange.

Sample the classics of world cuisine in this comprehensive collection of over 450 best-loved recipes from every continent authentic traditional dishes from Europe and the Caribbean to China, America and Japan 1500 color photographs, with recipe techniques shown step-by-step.

2. Desperation by Stephen King from the library sale — buy one hardcover, get one free.

Something is terribly wrong in Desperation, Nevada — a small mining town just off Route 50 with a played out open pit copper mine. The streets are wind swept and deserted; animals have the run of the town and something horrific is brewing in the now abandoned mine pit. You won’t have a good day in Desperation.

En route to Lake Tahoe for a much anticipated vacation, the Carver family is arrested for blowing out all four tires on their camper. Collie Entragian is the arresting officer, the self-made sheriff of a town called Desperation, Nevada, and the quintessential bad cop.

3.  From A Buick 8 by Stephen King from the library sale — the free hardback!

At first glance, Stephen King’s latest bears a familial resemblance to Christine , his 1983 saga of a haunted, homicidal Plymouth Fury. But From a Buick 8 is a marked departure from this earlier tale of adolescent angst and teenage tribal rituals. It is the work of an older, more reflective writer, one who knows that the most pressing questions often have no answers.

The story begins in western Pennsylvania in 1979, when a mysterious figure parks a vintage Buick Roadmaster at a local gas station, then disappears forever. The police discover that the Buick isn’t a car at all but rather a Buick-shaped enigma: self-healing; impregnable to dents, dirt, and scratches; composed of unidentifiable materials; and containing a completely nonfunctional engine. Confronted with a mystery of unprecedented proportions, the troopers of Barracks D claim the Buick for themselves and spend 20 years attempting to understand its nature, purpose, and provenance.

4. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani from the library sale’s buy 3 paperbacks for $1.

The majestic and haunting beauty of the Italian Alps is the setting of the first meeting of Enza, a practical beauty, and Ciro, a strapping mountain boy, who meet as teenagers, despite growing up in villages just a few miles apart. At the turn of the last century, when Ciro catches the local priest in a scandal, he is banished from his village and sent to hide in America as an apprentice to a shoemaker in Little Italy. Without explanation, he leaves a bereft Enza behind. Soon, Enza’s family faces disaster and she, too, is forced to go to America with her father to secure their future.

Unbeknownst to one another, they both build fledgling lives in America, Ciro masters shoemaking and Enza takes a factory job in Hoboken until fate intervenes and reunites them. But it is too late: Ciro has volunteered to serve in World War I and Enza, determined to forge a life without him, begins her impressive career as a seamstress at the Metropolitan Opera House that will sweep her into the glamorous salons of Manhattan and into the life of the international singing sensation, Enrico Caruso.

5. Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani, the second book in the library sale deal.

In this luscious, contemporary family saga, the Angelini Shoe Company, makers of exquisite wedding shoes since 1903, is one of the last family-owned businesses in Greenwich Village. The company is on the verge of financial collapse. It falls to thirty-three-year-old Valentine Roncalli, the talented and determined apprentice to her grandmother, the master artisan Teodora Angelini, to bring the family’s old-world craftsmanship into the twenty-first century and save the company from ruin.

While juggling a budding romance with dashing chef Roman Falconi, her duty to her family, and a design challenge presented by a prestigious department store, Valentine returns to Italy with her grandmother to learn new techniques and seek one-of-a-kind materials for building a pair of glorious shoes to beat their rivals.

6. The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent by Susan Elia MacNeal, the third book in the deal.

World War II rages on across Europe, but Maggie Hope has finally found a moment of rest on the pastoral coast of western Scotland. Home from an undercover mission in Berlin, she settles down to teach at her old spy training camp, and to heal from scars on both her body and heart. Yet instead of enjoying the quieter pace of life, Maggie is quickly drawn into another web of danger and intrigue. When three ballerinas fall strangely ill in Glasgow—including one of Maggie’s dearest friends—Maggie partners with MI-5 to uncover the truth behind their unusual symptoms. What she finds points to a series of poisonings that may expose shocking government secrets and put countless British lives at stake. But it’s the fight brewing in the Pacific that will forever change the course of the war—and indelibly shape Maggie’s fate.

7. Lost Voices by Sarah Porter from the library sale.

What happens to the girls nobody sees—the ones who are ignored, mistreated, hidden away? The girls nobody hears when they cry for help?

Fourteen-year-old Luce is one of those lost girls. After her father vanishes in a storm at sea, she is stuck in a grim, gray Alaskan fishing village with her alcoholic uncle. When her uncle crosses an unspeakable line, Luce reaches the depths of despair. Abandoned on the cliffs near her home, she expects to die when she tumbles to the icy, churning waves below. Instead, she undergoes an astonishing transformation and becomes a mermaid.

A tribe of mermaids finds Luce and welcomes her in—all of them, like her, lost girls who surrendered their humanity in the darkest moments of their lives. The mermaids are beautiful, free, and ageless, and Luce is thrilled with her new life until she discovers the catch: they feel an uncontrollable desire to drown seafarers, using their enchanted voices to lure ships into the rocks.

8.  Joy Street by Laura Foley for review in January with TLC Book Tours.

“Joy Street” pays lyrical homage to the truth of living as a lesbian in the second half of life. Each poem in this radiantly plainspoken collection offers subtle and penetrating observations that swell to a rich tapestry of ordinary life, beheld from a stance of grace and buoyancy. Starting with intimations of desire in childhood, these poems travel through ordinary domestic scenes to the blessing of a maturity in which the narrator, still embracing desire and wild promise, thrives in the midst of life’s darker gifts. This collection is truly a joy to read. It puts to shame those of us who walk through our days with “the din of loneliness,” ignoring life’s many invitations for bliss.

9. The Last Good Paradise by Tatjana Soli for review from St. Martin’s Press for TLC Book Tours.

On a small, unnamed coral atoll in the South Pacific, a group of troubled dreamers must face the possibility that the hopes they’ve labored after so single-mindedly might not lead them to the happiness they feel they were promised. Ann and Richard, an aspiring, Los Angeles power couple, are already sensing the cracks in their version of the American dream when their life unexpectedly implodes, leading them to brashly run away from home to a Robinson Crusoe idyll. Dex Cooper, lead singer of the rock band, Prospero, is facing his own slide from greatness, experimenting with artistic asceticism while accompanied by his sexy, young, and increasingly entrepreneurial muse, Wende. Loren, the French owner of the resort sauvage, has made his own Gauguin-like retreat from the world years before, only to find that the modern world has become impossible to disconnect from. Titi, descendent of Tahitian royalty, worker, and eventual inheritor of the resort, must fashion a vision of the island’s future that includes its indigenous people, while her partner, Cooked, is torn between anarchy and lust. By turns funny and tragic, The Last Good Paradise explores our modern, complex and often, self-contradictory discontents, crafting an exhilirating story about our need to connect in an increasingly networked but isolating world.

10.  Free Air by Joe Wenke for review from Meryll Moss Media.

“Free Air” is focused on freedom, relationships, betrayal and there are a few LGBT and political activist poems included. They are written to be entertaining and accessible as quick reads — witty, little revelations and are not academic poems.

11.  Paradise Drive by Rebecca Foust from the author for review.

Paradise Drive’s 80 sonnets (in various stages of departure from the form) are linked in a loose narrative, many inhabited by a sometimes-ironic protagonist named “Pilgrim.” All but a handful of the poems are or will be published in literary journals: four in the next issue of Hudson Review, eight in the next Notre Dame Review, and one each in next issues of the Cortland Review, Southern Indiana Review and Southern Poetry Review.

What did you receive?

Tatjana Soli Talks About Vietnam

I’ve been a bit quiet this week, but I did want to call your attention to a great guest post from Tatjana Soli, author of The Lotus Eaters, that Anna and I posted on War Through the Generations.

Soli raises a great number of questions about what war means and how location plays into that, but she also highlights how the impact of war is best seen from the individual perspective — whether it is the soldier, the journalist, or the average civilian.  In a way, this post explains how she became inspired enough to write The Lotus Eaters.

I hope you take the time to check out the guest post and leave a comment.  If you missed my review of this phenomenal book, please check that out as well.

***As an aside, have you seen the episode of Samantha Brown’s travel show?   You should check out the episode on Vietnam.

Winner of The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

Out of a number of entrants, Random.org selected #1 again.  I guess we can’t say that #1 is unlucky anymore.

#1 was Julie of Booking Mama!

Thanks to all who entered, and congrats to Julie!

I hope you’ll check out the other giveaways in the right sidebar.

Tatjana Soli’s Writing Space

Earlier today, I reviewed The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli (check her out on Twitter), and the author was gracious enough to share a sneak peek into her writing space.  Please give her a warm welcome.

Years ago when I first decided to start writing I bought a large, rolltop style desk. It was a big purchase for me, fresh out of college, but I needed to have something that made me feel like a writer. I bought it on layaway, payments that took a year to finish. But I needed to create a physical place that I would occupy hours a day, as a writer. For me, temporary writing places — a couch, or dining room table — made it too easy to ignore writing when life got in the way.

Ten years ago when we moved into our current home, it had a perfect writing room on the second story, with large windows that looked out over the treetops to the faraway hills. A perfect writing space… except for the narrow hallway leading to it, too narrow to get my big desk through. I was heartbroken. My mom gave me two tables that she no longer wanted, and I installed these in my writing room instead — one for my computer, one for handling correspondence, bill paying, all the other stuff.

My theory is to make the room as welcoming and comfortable as possible, to trick myself into working longer hours! Above one desk, I have a painting by my husband that I love, “Tree of Life,” all greens and golds. That big mound of paper on the corner of the desk is a draft of my second novel. I feel guilty looking at it every day that I don’t get back to it. My computer desk has a stand for my handwritten first drafts. I learned long ago that buying expensive moleskin notebooks made me feel like I couldn’t make mistakes, so I have a closet of cheap notepads to write on. The shades are usually half drawn since the light is bright in this room, but I love to look out while I’m thinking. There’s a big sour cherry tree outside, and this time of year wild parrots, green with a single big red spot on their heads, descend on it, bouncing on the branches and squawking as they eat the fruit.

The desk that I imagined I needed in order to write sits dusty at the end of the hallway. I realize that one doesn’t need the perfect room, paper, or pen to be a writer, one only needs to show up and do the work. For the years it takes. But if possible, why not surround oneself with things that remind one of the important things in life, the things, hopefully, that are leading one to write in the first place?

Thanks, Tatjana, for sharing your space with us.

I know I’ve always thought about writing at a rolltop desk, but then I smartened up and realized I love to move around too much.  What do you think about Tatjana’s writing space?

Giveaway information for 1 copy (US/Canada, No P.O. Boxes):

1.  Comment on guest post about what you think about Tatjana’s writing space.

2.  Leave a comment on my review of The Lotus Eaters.

3.  Tweet, Facebook, or blog about the giveaway and leave me a link.

Deadline April 20, 2010 at 11:59PM EST


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Monniblog and Ernie Wormwood.

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli

The Lotus Eaters by Tatjana Soli takes place in Vietnam between 1963 and 1975 and becomes a journal of Helen Adams’ evolution into a photojournalist from a young woman chasing the ghosts of her father and brother.  The Vietnam War was one of the most controversial in American history, and journalists were on the front lines of the battles — political and physical.

“When they were fired on, the advisers called down airpower, but it dropped short, falling on them and civilians.  A free-for-all clusterfuck.  The SVA panicked and started firing on their own people, on civilians instead of the enemy, who had probably long retreated.”  (Page 55 of ARC)

The Vietnam War thrust Americans in Asia at a time when Communism was considered one of the biggest threats to democracy.  Americans entered the war following the failure of the French to colonize Vietnam and keep Ho Chi Minh out.  Journalists flooded the nation, took some of the most raw and vivid shots of death, life, and struggle, but many of these were men.  Women were not expected to last long in country, particularly with the SVA, corruption, American bungling in the jungle, and the NVA.  Helen tags along with Sam Darrow to learn the ropes, but quickly finds that he’s not a mentor but a kindred soul.  They connect on more than one level, but the war has ravaged him, leaving a shell of man who is unable to reconcile his role in the war with the ideals he once held about changing the world.

“Helen’s Saigon had always been about selling — chickens, information, or lovely young women — it didn’t matter.  It had once been called the Pearl of the Orient, but by people who had not been there in a very long time.  Saigon had never been Paris, but now it was a garrison town, unlovely, a stinking refugee shantyville filled with the angry, the betrayed, the dispossessed, but she made it her home, and she couldn’t bear that soon she would have to leave.”  (Page 4 of the ARC)

Soli’s multi-layered tale unveils not only the horrors of war and the toll they take on individuals and the nation, but on the relationships cultivated in the most dire circumstances.  Linh, Darrow’s photography assistant and ex-NVA and ex-SVA soldier, adds another complication to the mix when he falls for Helen, but seeks to protect her from harm in honor of his friend, Darrow.

“Darrow moved forward with the rest of the men, entering the waist-high marsh.  She saw him as if for the first time, the truest image she would ever have:  a dozen men moving out single file, visible only from the waist up, only packs, helmets, and upraised weapons to identify them; a lone bare head, an upraised camera.”  (Page 91 of ARC)

Soli has a gift; she crafts a scene filled with heavy, conflicted emotion like a painter uses oil on canvas.  Her characters are multi-faceted, evolving, and devolving at the same time, and like the lotus eaters in the Homer quote at the beginning of the novel, they lose sight of their home, their pasts, and themselves as they are absorbed by the beauty and the terror of the Vietnamese and their nation.  The Lotus Eaters is an excellent selection for readers interested in the Vietnam War and a perspective beyond that of the soldiers.  Another book for the best of list this year.

About the Author:

Tatjana Soli is a novelist and short story writer. Born in Salzburg, Austria, she attended Stanford University and the Warren Wilson MFA Program.

Her work has been twice listed in the 100 Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories and nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She was awarded the Pirate’s Alley Faulkner Prize, teh Dana Award, finalist for the Bellwether Prize, and received scholarships to the Sewanee Writers’ Conference and Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference.

She lives with her husband in Orange County, California, and teaches through the Gotham Writers’ Workshop. @TatjanaSoli

Check out the rest of the TLC Book Tour.

This is my 25th book for the 2010 New Authors Challenge.

This is my first book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge.


Please also remember to check out the next stops on the National Poetry Month Blog Tour at Monniblog and Ernie Wormwood.

FTC Disclosure: Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for sending me a free copy of The Lotus Eaters for review.