MLA Platinum Award Press Release

Summary and book reviews of Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & Lena

A Novel

by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner X
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    May 2011, 304 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2012, 320 pages

    Genres

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk
Buy This Book

About this Book

Book Summary

In Vaclav & Lena Haley Tanner has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.

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.

NO ASSISTANT, NO MAGICIAN

"Here, I practice, and you practice. Ahem. AH-em. I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the sixth of May, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadan and all pagan festivals, born in a land far, far, far, far, far, far, far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion (Russia!), born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn (which is a Borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America), where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-pieces-suit, and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo, Vaclav the Magnificent, who shall, without no doubt, be ask to perform his mighty ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Discuss the relationships between storytelling, lies, and magic in Vaclav & Lena. How do these concepts interact in the novel's climax?


  2. Lena's disappearance is a sore point between Vaclav and Rasia. Do you think Rasia made the right choice by remaining silent about it?


  3. Early in the book, Vaclav has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself and in his future as a magician. Do you think this is merely naïveté, or is it a necessary attribute for someone to make their dreams come true?


  4. Discuss the challenges of immigration in the book. How does language play a role in assimilation for Vaclav and Lena? How does Rasia try to connect with her Americanized son?


  5. Rasia and her husband, Oleg, seem to have had very...
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 3 months or $12 for a year
  • More about membership!

Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

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...continued

Full Review (501 words).

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access, become a member today.

(Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

Media Reviews

Publishers Weekly
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.

Library Journal
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.

Kirkus Reviews
Starred Review. A terrific, enlightened debut that captures the fervor that hides in naïveté.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Author Blurb 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.

Reader Reviews

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 a ...   Read More

Write your own review!

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 3 months or $12 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book

Coney Island

Nathan's FamousAs a budding magician in Haley Tanner's novel Vaclav & Lena, young Vaclav dreams of performing for the crowds on Coney Island. Synonymous with roller coasters and Nathan's hot dogs, Coney Island is a unique piece of the New York City metropolitan area (located in the southernmost region of Brooklyn) and has a fascinating

Construction for Coney Island's resorts began in 1829 with the establishment of the Coney Island House, a haven for New York's upper crust. Though development was temporarily halted during the Civil War (1861-1865), the beachfront location quickly became a popular place to escape the hot, humid city summers and boomed with hotels, saloons, clam shacks, bathhouses, and entertainment for people of all types and ages. By ...

This "beyond the book" feature is available to non-members for a limited time. Join today for full access.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 3 months or $12 for a year
  • More about membership!

Readalikes

Readalikes Full readalike results are for members only

If you liked Vaclav & Lena, try these:

  • Normal People jacket

    Normal People

    by Sally Rooney

    Published 2020

    About this book

    More books by this author

    A wondrous and wise coming-of-age love story from the celebrated author of Conversations with Friends

  • The Night Circus jacket

    The Night Circus

    by Erin Morgenstern

    Published 2012

    About this book

    More books by this author

    The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night...

Non-members are limited to two results. Become a member
Search Readalikes again
How we choose readalikes
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $39 for 3 months or $12 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
    Mary Toft; or, The Rabbit Queen
    by Dexter Palmer
    The year is 1726 and the sleepy town of Godalming has been rocked by scandal. Called to the bedside ...
  • Book Jacket: Life Undercover
    Life Undercover
    by Amaryllis Fox
    Life Undercover, a riveting true-adventure memoir, reveals how and why a young woman decides to work...
  • Book Jacket: Celestial Bodies
    Celestial Bodies
    by Jokha Alharthi
    One typically expects to find a detailed family tree adorning the opening pages of, say, an epic ...
  • Book Jacket: All-American Muslim Girl
    All-American Muslim Girl
    by Nadine Jolie Courtney
    16-year-old Allie (Alia) Abraham, with her fair coloring, has always been able to "pass" for an All-...

Book Club Discussion
Book Jacket
The Lost Man
by Jane Harper

"Strong characters, riveting plot and an honest look at life in the Australian outback make it easy to give this 5-stars!"
—BookBrowse

About the book
Join the discussion!

Readers Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    You Were There Too
    by Colleen Oakley

    Acclaimed author Colleen Oakley delivers a heart-wrenching and unforgettable love story.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Lady Clementine
    by Marie Benedict

    An illuminating look at one of history's most unusual and extraordinary women, Clementine Churchill.
    Reader Reviews

Book Club Giveaway!
Win American Dirt

"A Grapes of Wrath for our times." - Don Winslow

This debut is already being hailed as a new American classic, and is the first book to receive a perfect 5-stars from BookBrowse reviewers!

Enter

Wordplay

Solve this clue:

V I T S Of L

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.