Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner, faculty, Creative Writing at The New School.
Random House Publishing Group, 2012
Barnes & Noble: Like millions before them, Eastern Europeans continue to make their way to New York even to this day. And it is the enduring strength of the human spirit to imagine and pursue a better future that informs Vaclav & Lena, Tanner’s lovely, deeply moving novel about a group of latter-day immigrants. Vaclav and Lena are children when we first meet them, living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Both came from Russia &emdash; Vaclav, thanks to the perseverance of his mother; Lena under less upstanding circumstances. Vaclav has dreams of becoming a modern-day Houdini, with Lena as his beautiful assistant. But one day, Lena disappears &emdash; and, as Vaclav realizes, his mother, however well meaning, had something to do with it.
Deceptively simple, Vaclav & Lena works on many levels. It is a story of an immigrant’s life, with the ambivalence that abandoning old ways and learning new rhythms entails; it is a story of a mother’s love, with all the thrill and pain of watching a child grow up and grow away; and it is the story of young love, with the attendant question of whether it can survive the blows of maturity and disillusionment.
But mostly, it’s the story of a boy who dares to believe in magic, by a novelist who gracefully shows us whether we can believe in it, too.