Friday, September 16, 2011

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner is set in New York City in the world of the Russian immigrant, it tells the story of two children and what happens when they are forced to grow up. Vaclav has fallen in love with magic, and his dream seems about to become a reality with the beautiful Lena as his assistant. Lena doesn't have family beyond a neglectful aunt and is taken in by the warmth of Vaclav's mother. Then a horrible discovery sends Lena away leaving an empty place in Vaclav's heart. Years later, as teenagers, they meet again- but will they have the opportunity to right what went wrong, or will history be destined to repeat itself again?

Vaclav and Lena is one of those books I was sent unsolicited that I honestly never would have picked up otherwise. I mean a magic show and a love story- really?- but WOW, I am so glad I read it (Thank you Random House Canada!) A synopsis doesn't do this touching and beautiful tale justice, what Tanner has written is a novel without a genre, something truly universal. Vaclav and Lena is part historical novel, part contemporary love story, part young adult literature and yet easily mature enough, even when the characters are children, for an adult audience. It takes the reader into a foreign world, almost fantastical, and yet real and located right in the middle of one of the biggest cities there is. The writing is vibrant and written with a hint of a Russian accent, helping to bring the setting to life without compromising on the details of the story. There is also a surprising bit of humour in the language and the way that Tanner phrases things, such as when she writes "Lena knows it is not right to steal unless you need something really badly, and the person is not home, and won’t even realize the thing is missing."

In fact, it is the sometimes childlike narration of Vaclav and Lena that often makes it so beautiful and perceptive. At one point Tanner writes:
"Next the princess and the boy did what everyone does when they fall in love: They sat in some crummy place, on some buckets turned over in a cold alley by the market, something like that, and they didn’t care that they were hungry and that they were thirsty and that they were tired, and that their mothers were wondering where they were, and they told each other everything that they had ever known and everything they liked and everything they didn’t like, and all of their favorite colors and books, and what kind of rain was their favorite, sprinkles or downpours."
Vaclav and Lena is a novel full of painful magic, sharp and sparkling, it is impossible not to fall in love with Vaclav and feel his longing and pain. Tanner shows clearly how even in normal life, even without all the glamour of paranormal beings and fantastical curses, sometimes love isn't quite enough. It is a touching and emotional book. Not just Vaclav and Lena, but each of the characters, even those, like Lena's aunt, who appear infrequently, are rich and complex. Vaclav and Lena is a book with many hats: it is a book about assimilation and belonging, it is a book about childhood dreams, it is a book about growing up and longing and loss. Mostly, Vaclav and Lena is a book about love in its many forms, and it is a powerful story Tanner tells with absolute magic.

Release Date: May 17th, 2011
Pages: 292
Source: ARC From Publisher
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