Chris Bohjalian knows how to write a story, and The Red Lotus is the latest in a long line of diverse and memorable novels. The timing of the book’s release is unfortunate since most people do not want to read about potential pandemics while living through one. However, if you are not afraid, then his latest novel is a definite must-read.
Not only is The Red Lotus a strong thriller that monopolized my attention, but it also explores the dedication of ER doctors and their unique approach to their work. Also within the story’s purview is the United States’ lack of preparations for a global pandemic and how so very close we are to something terrible. Did I mention the timing of its release?
In Mr. Bohjalian’s world, however, the most dangerous animal is not a primate (Ebola) or a bat (COVID-19) but rather the rat. (Insert trigger warning if rats make you very, very uncomfortable.) In the novel, rats are the villains we never see but about which there is plenty of discussions. We learn how many antibiotic-resistant diseases they carry, how they live everywhere, and how they proliferate. Never one to veer from the uncomfortable truth, Mr. Bohjalian scares us into understanding we are one rat-bite away from a pandemic that would make COVID-19 look like a minor cold.
Southeast Asia, and specifically Vietnam, is a geographic location that was never among my personal travel bucket list. However, Mr. Bohjalian’s descriptions of Vietnam make me reconsider that. It is obvious he fell in love with the country during his research visits, and that love permeates his narrative. I also appreciate that he adds the guilt associated with finding pleasure in a country with whom we were previously at war. Admittedly, that is one of my reasons for not wanting to visit, and I like that he uses his characters to discuss the war and those exact sentiments.
It is obvious Mr. Bohjalian spends a lot of time researching for his novels, and The Red Lotus is no exception. Plus, he writes a damn good thriller. It is unfortunate that the publication date happened to occur just as COVID-19 started hitting the United States, but hopefully, that will not turn you off from reading a novel that has a little bit of everything.