Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician's Almanac, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner's wondrous debut is that happily-ever-after is never a foregone conclusion.
One day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav's and his family's lives as if by a cruel magic trick. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena's seventeenth birthday he finds out.
Haley Tanner has the originality and verve of a born storyteller and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.
I have fallen in love with Vaclav & Lena. I say this not for a lack of something more insightful, but because Haley Tanner's debut novel is simply so lovable. Her characters, quirky and vivid, are presented with the right mix of vulnerability and spunkiness, which quickly endears them to the reader. Upon finishing the novel, I was left feeling as though I had met good people - all flawed in some way and all full of good intentions. (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).
If the final reveal doesn't live up to the emotional crescendo that's been building throughout the novel, readers will nevertheless be more than taken by the one-of-a-kind relationship between two magnificent characters.
Tanner's captivating debut novel is a love story of unusual innocence and intensity. Her prose is understated but powerful and also quite funny. A suspenseful, literary work that is hard to put down... highly recommended.
Starred Review. A terrific, enlightened debut that captures the fervor that hides in naïveté.
Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge
In this charming and wonderfully engaging tale, the reader is swept into the beautifully rendered landscape of the immigrant childhood experience. Haley Tanner has created a world peopled with characters of great poignancy, and they will linger in the mind - and heart - long after the book is put down.
Judy Blundell, National Book Award-winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied
There are books you enjoy, and then there are books you live in. Haley Tanner plunges you into the Russian émigré community in Brooklyn, where two souls connect under a maternal watchful eye. Tanner's assured narrative voice finds new ways to describe emotion and character, bringing the reader up short again and again with small shocks of awareness. This book is sad, funny, true, and shot through with grace.
Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer and The Brief History of the Dead Vaclav & Lena is a wonderful achievement, generous, playful, moving, and refreshing. It was the voice that first captivated me here, a voice that allows Haley Tanner to say anything at all, and to say it truly. Give this novel a few short pages, and I guarantee you'll want to read it to the end.
Recent Reader Reviews
Rated of 5
by Anita Fabulous debut novel I loved this debut novel about two children, born of Russian immigrants and living in modern day America. Vaclav and Lena are childhood friends, both Russian, but with extremely different home lives. As children they bond over Vaclav's dream to be... Read More
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