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VACLAV & LENA

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 conversation going.

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 supernatural powers.”

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 past.

“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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