Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They first meet as children in an English-as-a-second- language class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav, who dreams of becoming a famous magician, is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, but among the many truths to be discovered in Haley Tanner's wondrous debut is that happily ever after is never a foregone conclusion.
When Lena is not around Vaclav and his parents, her world is unsafe. Her poor language skills isolate her. She lives with a mostly absent, neglectful aunt, and has no connection to her parents, who she believes are still in Russia. Then, one day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family's lives as if by a cruel trick. For the next seven years Vaclav always says goodnight to her, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena's seventeenth birthday he finds out.
Haley Tanner has the originality and verve of a born storyteller, and the boldness to imagine a world in which love can overcome the most difficult circumstances. In Vaclav & Lena she has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection with someone else.
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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. -
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. -
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. -
[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. - The Times
Like all the best tricks, Hayley Tanner's novel leaves you wondering how it's done. [A] Brighton Beach Romeo and Juliet...What lifts the book above the ordinary are the voices Tanner gives her characters: all youth's anxiety and hope brilliantly refracted through an uncertain second tongue. Funny, warm and smart - and with a peppery twist that suggests truth and love don't always sit easily - this is a magical summer read. - Financial Times
Set in New York's Russian émigré community, this is a quirky tale about two children from different worlds who are destined to be together. Amid dark revelations, the relationship between these vividly painted characters will stay with you. - Easy Living
Tanner has fun re-creating the shimmering world of child co-conspiracy...The story is winningly conveyed...and Tanner doesn't dodge the more unpalatable elements. - Guardian
Not yet 30 years old herself, the Brooklyn-based author Haley Tanner has painted in this touching, sparsely written and powerful love story set in New York's Russian community, a vivid portrait of childhood and young adulthood that is likely to appeal to teenage readers and adults alike...It's not often a book comes along that can leave you literally nodding in agreement with the clarity of its insights - but this one has to be a contender. - Daily Mail