Friday, June 17, 2011

Vaclav & Lena

Vaclav & Lena / Haley Tanner.
Toronto: Knopf, c2011.
304 p.

I enjoyed this new book I received from Random House recently. I read it all on one sunny Sunday afternoon, while I was relaxing outside. I really couldn't put it down! The author had great pacing, and two main characters who were so interesting I wanted to see how their story turned out.

I have to admit I had a few reservations when I began it; will this be too twee for me? A little too quirky? But as I got into the rhythm of the book that fear dissipated. Vaclav and Lena are children, living in Brooklyn, at the beginning of the book -- they hang out at Vaclav's house practicing magic tricks because Vaclav is going to be a famous magician when he grows up. They are both from Russian immigrant families: Lena with a confused sense of where she came from and a neglectful aunt who "cares" for her in a laissez-faire kind of way, and Vaclav with a strong mother who mothers them both, as well as a father who drives taxi and is loud and rather loutish.

Their relationship develops under the watchful eye of Vaclav's mother, until one day Lena simply disappears. After Vaclav's heartbreak over this, the book jumps ahead to Vaclav's high school years. He's now a tall, handsome, still slightly odd and still magic obsessed 17-yr-old. And then he is contacted by Lena.

The craziness that ensues at their reconnection is tied to Lena's issues -- secrecy, possessiveness, a loose grasp of veracity, and a longing to know her family history. Their hopes of rekindling the passionate connection of their childhood are jeopardized by the issues they now face as individuals teetering on the edge of adulthood. But the story satisfies us with a hopeful though not perfect conclusion.

Near the end I had some issues with the plot. There were weaknesses in the explanation of what happened to Lena as a child, especially in the description of the neglectful aunt's motives for her treatment of Lena. I didn't believe that her explanation really made sense in light of the earlier scenes in the book. It was a tidy explanation that seemed to be trying to explain away the hurt and the darkness in the book, which I didn't think was needed. Lena's experience was hurtful; that was the truth.

This was a very enjoyable read. The setting, the characters, even Vaclav's fascination with stage magic, all made it entertaining. The author's voice was lively, with an original perspective. I was absorbed in this story for a full day and found it well worth the time invested ;)

And the cover is so lovely -- in appearance and in texture. Just had to mention that!


  1. What a great review. I've been eying this one :)

  2. What a lovely way to spend a sunny Sunday, this book sounds like a good read.


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