Thursday, 26 May 2011

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner


Pages - 292

Book kindly sent to me for review by William Heinemann, part of the Random House publishing group.

Published in 2011

'Here, I practice, and you practice. Ahem. AH-em. I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the sixth of May, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hanukkah and Ramadam and all pagan festivals, born in a land far, far, far, far, far,far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down through the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion (Russia!), born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn ( which is a Borough), near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic...........

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. Vaclav, although living a happy existence, seems slightly mollycoddled by his mother, who cannot see that she may be smothering him a little. Her love for him is all consuming; she instigated the move from Russia with her husband, just so that her son could have a better life.  Lena's life is full of sadness and neglect. Vaclav's mother does her best to take her under her wing and protect her, but she is concerned about the effect this girl has on her son. 

When the story moves to Vaclav's teenage years, the story of the past begins to fall into place like a jigsaw, each piece of the story finally revealed with the reasons for each person's actions. I had no idea the book would end with the truths that were revealed and found that the author had cleverly hidden any trace of what had happened, yet on reflection I should have been able to read between the words to work it out. 

This story is extremely original and captures the innocence of first love, which can overcome the issues of life that are thrown in its pathway . It shows you that occasionally little white lies can actually make things better for the one you love. The author is very good at evoking your emotions, so that you instantly feel involved in the lives of the characters. By the end of the book, I felt content in the knowledge that all would be well in their lives. I really loved reading this book and look forward to many more by this author. 

17 comments:

  1. I just read my first book set in Russia, The Bronze Horseman, and I loved it. I have been looking for another book about people from Russia, this one looks good. Great review.

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  2. Reading the paragraph you include I'm not too sure this is one for me as I have a feeling I'd have to keep re-reading sentences.

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  3. You've really interested me in this book. Adding it to my list. Thanks!

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  4. I simply love the sound of this book! I had seen the cover around but I hadn't read anything about it. (for some reason I thought it was a vampire book).

    I'm a big fan of Russian settings. I studied Russian history at Uni, so I am all about it! Paullina Simons has some good Russian-based books, oh and then there's Dimitri from the Vampire Academy novels - you have to read them! ;)

    Great review!

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  5. Vivienne, this sounds quite good, magical even. I've discovered a wonderful new word in your post: mollycoddled.

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  6. I've been wanting to read this!
    Just a note: "in it's pathway" should be "in its pathway"

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  7. It's strange really that I have not read many books about Russians and it is the country next door

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  8. this one sounds like something I'd enjoy, nice review! I do like the name Vaclav :)

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  9. Sounds interesting. Great review!

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  10. This one sounds lovely, and I havent heard of it so thanks for the introduction. Great review too!

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  11. After reading your review I'm excited about this book. I've got it on hold at the library, so when I bring it home I'll be sure to move it to the top of the stack. :)

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  12. Wow! Another great sounding book! :D Thanks for bringing it to my attention Viv!! x

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  13. I love the idea of the "little white lies" being a positive thing. Far more realistic than some of the overly idealised love-stories!

    *Makes note to keep an eye out for this one*

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  14. I honestly didnt think it would appeal to me after reading just the synopsis when you first mentioned it. But after reading your fantastic review I feel as if I MUST read it. Thank you (I think) :D

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  15. It truly sounds endearing. Thank you for the review :D

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  16. Wow, this sounds so interesting. I don't think I've ever read a book about Russian Americans before and this sounds exactly like the kind of book my friend would love and then give to me to read. :) Great review, Viv.

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  17. I hadn't heard of this book before your review and I nearly skipped over this post (as I have so much catching up to do!) but something about the cover made me read on. You completely sold it to me when you mentioned magic. I don't know what it is about magic and magicians, but I absolutely adore stories that involve magic. But then everything else added to that, the relationship between the two, Lena's vulnerability. I really, really want to read this book now!

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