Amy's Reviews > Vaclav and Lena

Vaclav and Lena by Haley Tanner
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's review
Aug 07, 11

bookshelves: immigrant-experience, russia, nyc
Read in August, 2011

Sweet love story about two Russian immigrant kids living in Brighton Beach. It begins when they're nine, and ends when they're seventeen. Vaclav wants to be a magician. He dreams of performing at Coney Island. He makes lots of to-do lists. Lena is a withdrawn little girl. She reminds me of a puppy rescued from the pound.

Beautiful characters in here, lots of tenderness in these friendships. Vaclav cares so much--for the years that he and Lena are separated, he privately wishes her good night every night. Some reviews had led me to think this was obsessive, pathetic. But it wasn't at all. He's just this sweet, loving, deep-thinking kid. His mother, Rasia, is a wonderful character too. I enjoyed her inner monologue as she tries to take care of these kids, in a foreign country, in a language that's hard for her.

This book made me think of a few other books I've really enjoyed. Not because it's like them in a copycat/"oh, I've seen this before" way, but because they share some features. "Benny and Shrimp" is a love story about slightly quirky characters (grown-ups). "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao" does a nice job capturing the unique voice of recent immigrants (from the Dominican Republic)--the rhythm and usage of people learning English as a second language. "Natasha and Other Stories" is a short story collection about a Russian Jewish family living in Toronto from the 1970s on.

Five stars for Vaclav & Lena. I wouldn't change a thing about it.
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