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Vaclav and Lena Paperback – 2 Jun 2011

3.9 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: William Heinemann (2 Jun. 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0434020443
  • ISBN-13: 978-0434020447
  • Product Dimensions: 13.5 x 2.2 x 21.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (18 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,347,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"Haley Tanner has created a world peopled with characters of great poignacy and they will linger in the mind - and heart - long after the book is put down." (Elizabeth Strout, Pulitzer Prize winning author of Olive Kitteridge)

"Vaclav and Lena is a wonderful achievement, generous, playful, moving, and refreshing. It was the voice that first captivated me here, a voice that allows Haley Tanner to say anything at all, and to say it truly. Give this novel a few short pages, and I guarantee you'll want to read it to the end." (Kevin Brockmeier, author of The View from the Seventh Layer and The Brief History of the Dead)

"There are books you enjoy, and then there are books you live in. Haley Tanner plunges you into the Russian émigré community in Brooklyn, where two souls connect under a maternal watchful eye. Tanner's assured narrative voice finds new ways to describe emotion and character, bringing the reader up short 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 of What I Saw and How I Lied)

"[A] wonderful and wrenching debut novel...Whimsical love stories are tough to pull off. But vibrant characters, believableromance and dark undertones make for a moving tale...Ms. Tanner is such a strong storyteller, and her distinctive voice - winsome without being dopey - engulfs you immediately...There are two love stories in this book: the one between the boy and the girl, and the one between the mother and the son...Many an author has relied on the redemptive power of love as the ultimate fixer. Too often its capacity to heal is taken for granted. Ms. Tanner reserves the abracadabra for Vaclav's routines. She shows what love can do and also what it cannot. But that's not to say that Ms. Tanner isn't a romantic. She offers a case of love so mighty that you believe that it will end up rescuing a traumatized young woman." (New York Times)

"Vaclav and Lena meet as small children at an English class in Brooklyn. They have come from Russia during the aftermath of glasnost. At the age of 10 Vaclav has set his heart on becoming a famous magician and performing on the boardwalk at Coney Island, with Lena as his lovely assistant. He already knows that he will marry Lena some day. Tanner infuses their relationship with sunlight but never sentimentalises the immigrant experience. Vaclav's father is an architect who drives a cab and drinks vodka. The warmth in his house is generated by his mother, Rasia, who quietly feeds her son's little friend. Lena feels safe only with Vaclav and his family. Her parents are in Russia and she lives with her mostly absent aunt. One day Lena does not come to school and Vaclav spends the next seven years waiting for her. A uniquely charming first novel." (Kate Saunders The Times)

Book Description

A timeless love story set in New York's Russian emigre community from a stunningly gifted young novelist.

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Customer Reviews

3.9 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It's not Charles Dickens, but if you want something that's a bit above your general beach read then this is it. I loved the story - it's beautifully told and the characters are vivid. I'm not a chick lit lover, and if this hadn't been given to me as a gift I would have ignored it fearing that chick lit was exactly what it was. Very wrong.

Both my teenage daughters read it after me and both loved it, so it's a book that spans the generations. Lovely.
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Format: Audio CD
Affecting, poignant, unforgettable all describe Haley Tanner's wonderful debut novel VACLAV & LENA. One would be hard-pressed to think of anyone who would not be touched by her story, especially when read by two such talented actors as Kirby Heyborne and Rebecca Lowman.

A gifted and versatile performer Heyborne has received acclaim for not only his acting but his music (four solo albums) and his comedy. Lowman brings a wealth of stage, film and television experience to her narration. An inimitable pairing for this narration! Listen as they introduce us to Vaclav and Lena who first meet as children when they're enrolled in an English as a Second Language class in Brooklyn. Both are six-year-old Russian immigrants.

Drawn to one another they begin to play a game. He is to be a magician; she will be his assistant. Every day after school they practice their act; they grow closer and make promises. For instance, when they perform on the boardwalk at Coney Island they'll be billed as Vaclav the Magnificent and his assistant, the Lovely Lena. Another vow is that they will be together forever.

Vaclav's mother, Rasia, is sympathetic toward Lena who has no family but lives in an apartment with an aunt. Rasia walks Lena home every night after supper and is aware of the messy shabbiness of Lena's apartment as well as the unsavory way her aunt makes a living.

One day Lena does not show up for class. Rasia is stunned with what she finds when she goes to look for her and cannot bring herself to tell the frantic Vaclav the truth. Time passes until Vaclav is 17 and his phone rings - it is Lena. Yes, they are together again yet in Tanner's gifted hands there is more to come.

VACLAV & LENA is a love story that reminds us of the strength and redemptive power of love.

Highly recommended.

- Gail Cooke
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Format: Paperback
On receiving this book, I had very little knowledge about it, all I knew was that it had something to do with Russians, which intrigued me from the start as I don't think I have ever read a book that had Russians as main characters. As the young Vaclav stepped onto the page and began his opening speech in broken English for his upcoming magic trick, I was instantly smitten by his character. His warmheartedness burst out of the story and enveloped me into a bear hug. His assistant Lena, exists more quietly within the book, seeing everything that goes on around her and carefully taking it all in. Vaclav has enough love for both of them and guides Lena through everyday life.

The story begins with Vaclav and Lena as children. Vaclav believes without any doubt that he will be a famous magician when he grows up and that he will marry Lena. Both children, are Russian-Americans who are brought together after attending English-as-a-second-language classes. Vaclav's life is secure and stable and he knows he is unconditionally loved. Lena's life is not such a happy one and she finds comfort in being at Vaclav's home. Then one day, Lena just stops visiting Vaclav.

Seven years later we are introduced to a more grown up Vaclav, who has developed a healthy interest in girls, yet stills remains faithful in his love for Lena. He stills also holds the dream of being a magician. The story then unfolds as what actually happened to Lena all those years ago. Can Vaclav now understand the things he was too young to cope with then.

I found the innocence within this story quite breathtaking. Vaclav and Lena are both children you want to hug, yet each have their own set of problems which seem to be defining their future.
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Format: Paperback
Both children of Russian immigrants to Brooklyn, Vaclav and Lena have been inseparable since the first day they met and saw the magic act at a Coney Island sideshow. Vaclav becomes magician-in-training (with his lovely assistant Lena), and nobody questions why Lena barely eats and spends all of her time at Vaclav's house or why he should do her homework. One night, Lena disappears from 10 year old Vaclav's life with no explanation, leaving a gaping wound where VacLena has been separated. It is only when Lena re-finds Vaclav on her 17th birthday that the missing pieces are slotted back together...

The third person, present tense narrative reflects Vaclav and Lena's growing grasp of the English language, which did initially grate on me, but became less grating as they grew older. The dramatically opposing characters of Vaclav and Lena are well-drawn, but I found Vaclav's mother, Rasia, far more interesting, and more poignant. The darkness that Lena has hidden from herself in the years since she left Vaclav and Rasia behind is also convincingly portrayed.

Tanner creates engaging characters, and portrays truths, differences and unpleasantnesses about the immigrant experience. At the same time, the story holds no real surprises (Lena's secret is fairly well signposted) and although it is told in an original voice, the predictable curve of the narrative means that it is likeable, readable, but not quite the magnificent, showstopping magic act the title might lead one to hope for.
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