Thursday, June 2, 2011

"Vaclav & Lena" by Haley Tanner - From Russia, In Love


Title: Vaclav & Lena
Author: Haley Tanner
Publisher: The Dial Press

Release Date: May 17th' 2011
Available to order here: Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble


Set in New York's Russian émigré community, Vaclav & Lena is a timeless love story from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

Vaclav and Lena, both the children of Russian émigrés, are at the same time from radically different worlds. While Vaclav's burgeoning love of performing magic is indulged by hard-working parents pursuing the American dream, troubled orphan Lena is caught in a domestic situation no child should suffer through. Taken in as one of her own by Vaclav's big-hearted mother, Lena might finally be able to blossom; in the naive young magician's eyes, she is destined to be his "faithful assistant"...but after a horrific discovery, the two are ripped apart without even a goodbye. Years later, they meet again. But will their past once more conspire to keep them apart?

My Review

"Vaclav & Lena" by Haley Tanner is a beautiful and poignant novel about love that takes root between two immigrant children in the immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn - a love that continues to grow over time. Being immigrants, Vaclav and Lena are the odd outcasts trying to find their voices and their place in the world. While Vaclav aspires to be a world famous magician, Lena is his assistant and his muse. While Vaclav resides in a household where he is loved and pampered by his parents, Lena is an orphan who lives with an aunt who mostly ignores and neglects her. While Vaclav knows some English and strives hard to master the language, Lena struggles with it, and stumbles her way through it. Vaclav's doting mother Rasia is still extremely protective of him and tries to instruct him the ways of Russian tradition, all the while trying really hard to be the best "American" mother for her now American son. 

Even at the tender age of nine there is a special bond between Vaclav & Lena - clearly evident in the way they do everything together, and how even at such a young age plan a life together in the future. Amidst the aroma of borscht, the goal-oriented lists of things that need to be done, and the English spoken in Russian accents, Vaclav & Lena (too young to give it a word or any designation) fall in love. But then one day, when Lena doesn't come to school due to sickness and Rasia, who loves Lena like her own daughter, goes to check on her - when Rasia returns, she tells Vaclav that Lena has been sent to live with a family where she will be happy. Shrouded under secrecy and a thick veil of mystery, Vaclav is never really given a clear-cut answer as to why this drastic measure had to be taken. But he appeases himself by wishing his beloved Lena goodnight every night, and sending all his love out to her through the universe, wherever she may be. 

Seven years later, Vaclav still wants to be a magician, has a girlfriend and still loves Lena. And we finally see that Lena is also in Brooklyn, and is living with her adoptive mother Emily, who she lovingly called "Em" (short for Emily, and a nickname for Mom, beginning with the letter M/Em). She has grown up but is still struggling with her identity, and her murky past. Fate brings them back into each others life, and before they know it, they are back to sharing secrets, making lists and reveling in each others company. But will they be able to continue being in each others life? Can they escape their past, or come to terms with it, especially when neither is comfortable even bringing it up? Can Vaclav weave some magic to rid his love Lena from the harrowing reality of her history?

Haley Tanner's prose is magical, and inspires the reader to not just read but feel the love that exists between Vaclav & Lena. The characterization in this novel is ruthlessly spot-on, and her usage of language (the way the characters speak) as a way to describe them adds to this. This novel has an emotional depth that exceeds the expectations, and I was so deeply affected by the characters and their story that before I could think, I found myself saying a prayer for Vaclav & Lena.  This is as much a story about assimilation, trying hard to fit into a place when another part of you has been left in some other country, as it is about love. It is also as much a story about a mother's struggle to protect her son, as it is a story about love. It is as much a story about true friendship, and great respect as it is a story about love. I was fully absorbed in the story, and finished it in a day's time because I could not wait to see what would happen with Vaclav and Lena. Ultimately, Vaclav and Lena have become as synonymous to me as Romeo & Juliet...always remembered together, never apart. I absolutely loved this touching and beautiful story - and I am sure you will love it too. 

My Rating : 5/5 Stars

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book via LibraryThing Early Reviewers. I was not compensated monetarily, or in any other way, for my opinion. The opinions stated in this review are solely mine, and are not representative of views of the author, or publishing company, of this book. 


  1. I picked this up from the library a couple of weeks ago and ended up not reading it...I should have! Great review!

  2. This sounds so good Hira - a very emotional novel and those are the ones I usually really gravitate towards.

  3. @Jacinda (The Reading Housewives)

    Hey Jacinda,

    I have read that some people found the love story too...romantic. Not I. I loved that the childhood connection was handled in a way a childhood love would be explored. And the dynamics as teenagers changed, as well. But ultimately, I think this book is really rewarding. I hope you get to read it, and I hope you like it as well. :)


  4. @Darlene

    Darling Elaine,

    I know you will definitely like this book. You wanna know how I know this? Because I read the posts you make, and the kind of books you read - and this is the kind of adult fiction, exploring human psyche, emotions and actions that you would end up liking. There are some child-like elements in there, and teenage elements too...but they all add to the book. I hope you read it, and I hope that you will like it too.


  5. Thank you for your review. I just finished Vaclav and Lena and loved it. I will be writing a review soon. I usually don't read a book in a day but this one, was so magically. Stories don't always have a happy ending, but it was magically. I am hoping to recommend this one to one of my book clubs.

    1. Wow,

      I'm glad that you were able to read this book. It is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. I hope you do recommend it to your book clubs, and that they end up reading it. Thank you for stopping by the blog, and I hope you'll continue visiting! :)