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Vaclav & Lena ~ Haley Tanner

July 9, 2011


Genre: Adult Fiction
Publisher: The Dial Press
304 pages
ISBN: 9781400069316
Source: Book store

The 90’s dawn on Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach with hope and sunlight. At least, they do for Vaclav.  For the rest of the Russian immigrant community, life isn’t all magic and ponies. His best friend, Lena, for example, lives with her aunt, a woman of questionable employment and morals, in a tiny, rundown apartment that seems to suck the very life out of a girl who should be thriving in the new world. Together, the two save each other from many of life’s perils and threats for five years.

As their second decade approaches, though, the ten-year olds find themselves at odds with each other and a world that seems to hold uglier surprises than they might have imagined.  Vaclav begins to question his safe, supportive home and new light shines on the dismal existence that Lena hides in.

When Lena suddenly disappears from Vaclav’s life, one fateful day, his heart is split in two. He continues to hold her close, saying an audible “Goodnight” to her for the next seven years. He continues this until he stumbles upon an answer he’s been waiting for, for better or for worse, since Lena came into his life.

Inside the tiny immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Tanner paints a world so filled with possibility and despair, it is impossible to remember that this world is never much bigger than one borough. Her prose follows the development of the duo’s English. It is first simple and stilted, later, complex and beautiful, almost heartbreakingly so, as the story grows and changes with the central subjects. The words, themselves, are not the only things that progress with the characters. Immigration, identity and other, much darker topics are alluded to and explored between the pages, through younger eyes, then more mature hearts, as secrets are revealed and truths brought to light.

The cotton candy cover is a bit misleading in that it seems to speak of a fluffy, happy story. Though there is peace and beauty to be found, there is a dark underbelly to this tale that I was shocked and surprised to find. The darkness should not be a deterrent, though, as the entire saga is well worth the ride. A stunning and emotional debut, Vaclav & Lena is a stellar exploration of friendship, love, loss and humanity that should not be missed.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 10, 2011 1:58 pm

    I have this book and am really excited that I will soon have the chance to read it. I love that there is a darkness in these pages, because like you, I totally wouldn’t have expected it. Great review! I will have to let you know what I think about it!

  2. Veens permalink
    July 10, 2011 3:06 pm

    I must agree that that cover is totally misleading because I was not expecting such serious matter being there.

    Sounds like a great read.

  3. July 10, 2011 6:47 pm

    I have this book, but I didn’t see the cover beforehand. I have to admit that the cover may be why I haven’t read it yet…. I have to get beyond that!

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