Picture a smitten six year old Russian boy in New York who dreams of becoming one of the most famous magicians in the world with the help of his lovely assistant, Lena. Now picture the same hopeful boy in a seventeen year old body, still dreaming of his magician career but pining for his missing Lena. Vaclav is that Russian American youth who believes that love can conquer anything and work its magic into the deepest, darkest moments of his and Lena’s life.
From the beginning of the novel to the very last sentence on the final page, Tanner makes you really believe in love and what the cause for its celebration is all about. I think I mentioned before that I am a hopeless romantic, so this book totally seduced me into its streets of Brooklyn and Vaclav’s house. Whether it is reading about when Vaclav and Lena are ten, practicing their magic show in their accents, or the recounting of their first meeting at six years old, or even when they are teenagers trying to find themselves—I was eating the story up! Coming from a Hungarian background, the scences where you join Vaclav at the dinner table is so reminiscant of my childhood experiences and brought back nice memories.
His mother, Rasia is the typical overbearing European woman who persuades everyone that they are much too skinny and need to eat more food. His father, Oleg drowns in his vodka and whatever other alcohol he can get his hands on, while watching Russian TV. Vaclav, being the only child and having no real friends in school gives Rasia the drive to introduce Lena to him.
Lena’s own family background is topsy-turvey: she does not know who her parents are and she has been sent to live with a so-called “aunt”, who does not even care for her. It is because of Lena’s aunt (and dangerous lifestyle) that Rasia finds out what the little girl is actually living through. Vaclav’s mother decides to stop the suffering happening in Lena’s life, but does not realize how this will affect her own dear son in the end.
Will Vaclav and Lena ever see each other again? Can love really conquer all? It does seem at times as though love can play tricks on one’s mind, but Vaclav being the determined magician he is, uses his magic to try and pull Lena back to him. For a debut novel, it is impressive to see a wonderful message speak volumes with such a perfect mix of melancholy and elation. No matter what age, what distance or how dire a situation may be, love can heal so many things. What did you think of Tanner’s first book? Would you like to read futher works of hers?
To read reviews on Vaclav and Lena please click on the links below.
From The New York Times:
From Kirkus Reviews:
For more information about Haley Tanner, click on the link provided:
Some questions to consider when thinking about this story:
-Why near the beginning does Lena push Vaclav away? Is it because of what is happening at home, or is it something else?
-Does Ekaterina really care about Lena as she claims near the end?
For more questions where those came from, please consult the following:
Considering the fact that Lena is adopted, I was curious to know the statistics on the adoption rate for Russian children in America today. According to the U.S. Department of State, The United States still leads among countries adopting Russian orphans, but the numbers are rapidly changing. American visas issued to Russian orphans drops by about 20 percent every year; the number of Russian orphans obtaining families and homes in the United States fell from 5,865 children in 2004 to about 1,800 in 2008. Russia is now trying to change the situation of foreign adoption for the better, by encouraging Russians to adopt orphans in their own country, rather than having American families adopt. For the full story, read the article from The Washington Post written in 2009:
This book reminded me of …
At the moment, I can’t even say how this book reminds me of anything else. I don’t know if I have ever read another novel where the love story starts at such a young age and with children of immigrants hoping for a new life in America. It is a novel that seems to have been written for my exact tastes; just the right amount of ingredients coming together. The only title that I can maybe vaguely point to is Russian Winter, because of the Russian characters. If I come across another story that is just like Vaclav & Lena, I’ll be sure to let you know!
Favorite quote from book:
“For Vaclav … it is exactly right and wonderful, and … for all the poetry and song and painting and verse dedicated to it, underrated. The feeling, in fact, is so wonderful that Vaclav can feel himself in his body like he never has before; it is impossible to think, to step outside of pure physical wonder; all he feels is all he feels, and Lena, Lena is another planet, and he is a star shooting through the cold, black sky. He cradles her head in his hand, and he loves her so much he would shield her from a meteorite with his body, and he tries to be gentle, and he asks her if she is okay.” (p. 249)
Most beautiful/perfect moment in the story:
Hands down it is at the end of the book where Vaclav uses his stroytelling as magic. I guess he does turn out to be the magnificant magician after all. (p. 285-288)
Next month’s title:
The Reinvention of Love by Helen Humphreys