Illusions and Vaclav & Lena
By Neely Kennedy
In the LHJ book club
pick, Vaclav & Lena, author Haley Tanner
tells the story of a young Russian immigrant boy’s obsession with becoming a great
magician. While Vaclav studies and practices his magic, his best friend, love interest
and assistant, Lena, hides behind the illusions of her horrific home life. It’s
a delight to read how Tanner skillfully marries the literal theme of magic with
a deeper metaphor and exploration of illusions.
When discussing the book with your club, ask members to identify examples of the
use of illusions. What are the tricks behind them? How might we be using illusions
in our own lives to hide or protect ourselves? What magic in life is worthwhile?
Here are some brief excerpts from the book that illuminate the theme to get your
When Vaclav and Lena are reunited as teenagers, they both reveal more self-awareness
in trying to control the unmanageable parts of their lives.
“’Same thing’, he says, meaning same thing as when you left, meaning still magic,
still trying to take care of you with my mind, still trying to control events using
When Lena finally settles into a relatively normal life with her new mother,
she has a hard time maintaining the mirage of happiness, as she is haunted by her
“This is especially difficult when she must lead a meeting of the student council
or the art club, or rally her teammates at soccer practice, but she gets through
it, one minute at a time, by pretending.”
During a moment of introspection and clarity while escaping to a bathroom stall
in her school, Lena realizes how she uses the illusion of different personas as
a coping mechanism.
“She decides that the spots are keys to living a life as a complete person, not
as a disjointed puzzle person made up of many different people trying to masquerade
as one person.”
This leads Lena to another observation. She’s not the only one masquerading—everyone
around her is projecting an ideal self-image to hide behind, an illusion to mask
their perceived inadequacies.
“Everyone wants to go about as if they were a fantastic superhero, born into the
world complete; no one wants to acknowledge that they are self-consciously creating
themselves, but everyone is. Everyone is, Lena thinks.”
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