Vaclav & Lena is the love story of two Russian immigrant children who meet at a young age and are separated by events that involve Child & Family Services. Lena is taken away but never forgets Vaclav. Vaclav never forgets Lena. And on her 17th birthday Lena calls Vaclav and they reconnect.
The Russian accented English prose sets the stage for this Brooklyn family who is struggling with the hardships of leaving family in Russia and establishing themselves in America. Vaclav is a bit odd. He’s obsessed with Harry Houdini, becoming a famous magician, and making lists. He finds a perfect companion in Lena, who is another solitary figure in his ESL class.
Lena’s Aunt and Vaclav’s Mom Rasia agree on a playdate for their small children. Rasia will take them to Coney Island for the day. When Vaclav and Lena go off to play on the rides, they discover that the clowns say Lena is too small for every ride they try. They wander mistakenly into the Coney Island Sideshow to watch Fredini and Heather Holliday in her gold bikini, which is the catalyst of their secret, scheming relationship.
THINGS THAT ARE:
1. One day being a famous magician
2. Lena being lovely assistant
3. Perseverance toward those goals in spite of any and every obstacle
Haley Tanner has written a lovely, lovely first novel. There is something about the perseverance of first novels that leads to perfection. The story isn’t just charming, it’s a balance of light and dark. The maternal watchful eye of Rasia is comforting and terrifying. The relationship between Vaclav and Lena is poignant and bewitching. I really enjoyed this novel. Big recommendation.
Vaclav & Lena
by Haley Tanner
published by Knoff Canada