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Vaclav & Lena: A Novel Hardcover


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: The Dial Press; First Edition edition (May 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400069319
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400069316
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 8.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #716,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

“Wonderful and wrenching . . . Vibrant characters, believable romance and dark undertones make for a moving tale.”—The New York Times
 
“From the moment they meet, Vaclav and Lena make magic together. . . . Through all the twists and turns of the book, the most enduring theme of the novel is love.”—NPR
 
“Haley Tanner’s assured narrative voice finds new ways to describe emotion and character, stunning the reader again and again with small shocks of awareness. This book is sad, funny, true, and shot through with grace.”—Judy Blundell, National Book Award–winning author ofWhat I Saw and How I Lied
 
“Highly recommended . . . Tanner’s captivating debut novel is a love story of unusual innocence and intensity [and] a suspenseful, literary work that is hard to put down.”—Library Journal
 
“A debut to savor . . . Tanner’s charming story unfolds as gracefully as a flower.”—People
 
“The magic Tanner makes is as dazzling as it is profound.”—Booklist

About the Author

Haley Tanner was born in 1982 in New York. She holds an MFA from the New School and a BA from Clark University. She lives in Brooklyn with her two dogs. This is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

A very interesting story, well written, The characters are multidimensional.
judithwyckoff
VACLAV & LENA is a love story that reminds us of the strength and redemptive power of love.
Gail Cooke
I think that too many things were resolved easily and a little unbelievably.
Kindle Customer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By Luanne Ollivier TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 20, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Vaclav & Lena is set in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Both characters are Russian émigrés - children 10 and 9 years old. Vaclav has a fair grasp of the English language but is keen to master it. His mother Rasia is loving and kind, determined to make a better life for her son. Lena's life is much different - she has no support at the place she calls home, often has nothing to eat, does poorly in school and tries to blend into the woodwork in an effort to hide. Rasia does her best to mother her as well.

Vaclav and Lena share a love of magic and dream of the day when Vaclav will be a famous magician and Lena will be his stunning assistant. When Lena disappears from his life under never discussed circumstances, Vaclav is heartbroken. Until the day seven years later when their paths cross again....

Vaclav is such an earnest, eager, spirited child. He sees the positive in everything around him. He dreams of the future. The barriers placed in his way do not stop him or deter him. This character touched me so much and literally brought tears to my eyes.

"Rasia looks at Vaclav, holding these dollar bills, smiling his goofy smile. Most people do not really mean their smiles, most of the time. For most people, their smiles are a lie, a trick, or a promise. Vaclav's smile is just a smile, and he always means it."

Two years ago I worked in a very small library. Every day we were open, a young boy, his sister, mother and baby brother came in after school. They were recent immigrants from an Eastern bloc country. The oldest boy had attended school in his home country, his language carried an accent and mangled syntax, he was awkward socially, but tried so hard to fit in. It broke my heart to see him rebuffed by the other children.
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21 of 24 people found the following review helpful By SFreader on September 8, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I was kind of looking forward to reading this book after coming across a magazine review but ended up being less than impressed. The plot is fairly simple and very predictable. However, my much bigger issue is with the whole Russianness of the books.

With the two exceptions (Vaclav and the social worker, Anna), every Russian character is presented negatively in one way or the other, be it the physical ugliness or the moral one. Usually it's both. In fact, majority of the Russian characters are just plain sociopaths (the "grandmother", the actual grandmother, the two elderly neighbors - the list goes on and on). Everything that's Russian in the book (be it the appearance of a house, smell of food, the country itself) is ugly, disgusting, etc. A more balanced look would give more credibility to the author's knowledge of the subject.

Secondly, based on the way the author described life in Russia, I assumed that the story takes place in the middle of the last century, not the 1990s. And all these clichés... Prostitutes - check, alcoholic - check, tea drinking - check. Oy.

Finally, there are these seemingly minor comments and statements throughout the book that, as one who is probably more intimately familiar with the Russian immigrant community than the author, I just couldn't swallow:

- There is no way in hell you would find Wonder bread and peanut butter in a typical Russian immigrants' kitchen.

- In my 15+ years here I have yet to meet a family that would ban Russian language at home. Based on my personal experience, which among other things includes knowing several dozens Russian families in the US, it is quite the opposite.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By MurphysLaw58 on May 23, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I am afraid to say that "Vaclav and Lena" is a coming-of-age story for fear that will turn people off, because this book is anything but cliché. Vaclav and Lena are Russian-Americans in modern-day New York. The story is told from the viewpoints of Vaclav, Lena and Vaclav's mother, Rasia, but mostly we live in Vaclav's world. At ten, he is a budding magician, and his life revolves around developing his magic show. Lena is his beautiful assistant, and they spend hours together planning and making lists. Rasia struggles to be a good "American" parent to Vaclav. They share the struggles that immigrants and first-generation American's face. Vaclav and Lena meet in ESL classes and sit with the other "smelly lunch" children. Vaclav's father revisits Russia every night on satellite TV.

I was charmed by young Vaclav and his dreams. I was charmed by his love for Lena and Rasia. I was charmed by his naiveté. I wanted to be Vaclav's friend.

The style of the book is spot on. Between the narrative and action, we listen to the characters think out loud, and Tanner's prose mimics the mental tug-of-war that we all experience. The tussle between what we believe and what is real. The seesaw of she-loves-me-she-loves-me-not. The quandary between right and good.

As the minds of Vaclav, Lena and Rasia race to the conclusion, so does the reader. This is one of those books that grabs hold and doesn't let go. I sacrificed sleep to be able to finish it and was not disappointed. The book is not so much about uncovering secrets as finding out how everyone will respond when the secrets are out.

I am a sucker for a debut novel, and this is Tanner's first. It made me nostalgic for Irving's "Setting Free the Bears." Some people might have difficulty with the simplicity of the language or the first-generation English of the characters, but I think that was part of the appeal.
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