Summary and book reviews of Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & Lena

A Novel

by Haley Tanner

Vaclav & Lena
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

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

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Book Reviewed by:
Elizabeth Whitmore Funk

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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...
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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.   (Reviewed by Elizabeth Whitmore Funk).

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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

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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 ...

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