VACLAV & LENA
Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale,
Vaclav and Lena seem destined for each other. They meet as children in an ESL class in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Vaclav is precocious and verbal. Lena, struggling with English, takes comfort in the safety of his adoration, his noisy, loving home, and the care of Rasia, his big-hearted mother. Vaclav imagines their story unfolding like a fairy tale, or the perfect illusion from his treasured Magician’s Almanac. But one day, Lena does not show up for school. She has disappeared from Vaclav and his family’s lives as if by a cruel sleight of hand. For the next seven years, Vaclav says goodnight to Lena without fail, wondering if she is doing the same somewhere. On the eve of Lena’s seventeenth birthday he finds out. In Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner has created two unforgettable young protagonists who evoke the joy, the confusion, and the passion of having a profound, everlasting connection.
“Wonderful and wrenching . . . Vibrant characters, believable romance and dark undertones make for a moving tale.”—The New York Times
“From the moment they meet, Vaclav and Lena make magic together. . . . Through all the twists and turns of the book, the most enduring theme of the novel is love.”—NPR
“Haley Tanner’s assured narrative voice finds new ways to describe emotion and character, stunning the reader again and again with small shocks of awareness. This book is sad, funny, true, and shot through with grace.”—Judy Blundell, National Book Award–winning author of What I Saw and How I Lied
“Highly recommended . . . Tanner’s captivating debut novel is a love story of unusual innocence and intensity [and] a suspenseful, literary work that is hard to put down.”—Library Journal
Discuss the relationships between storytelling, lies, and magic in Vaclav & Lena. How do these concepts interact in the novel’s climax?
Lena’s disappearance is a sore point between Vaclav and Rasia. Do you think Rasia made the right choice by remaining silent about it?
Early in the book, Vaclav has a tremendous amount of confidence in himself and in his future as a magician. Do you think this is merely naïveté, or is it a necessary attribute for someone to make their dreams come true?
Discuss the challenges of immigration in the book. How does language play a role in assimilation for Vaclav and Lena? How does Rasia try to connect with her Americanized son?
Rasia and her husband, Oleg, seem to have had very different experiences in immigrating to America. What factors have contributed to this difference in their experience?
How would you describe the dynamics of Vaclav and Lena’s relationship at the start of the novel? How do those dynamics shift when Lena becomes friends with the popular crowd and Vaclav volunteers to do her homework for her? How do they shift again when Vaclav and Lena reconnect as teenagers?
Discuss the novel’s settings. How does the Russian émigré community of Brighton Beach have an effect on Vaclav and Lena? How does the fantastical world of Coney Island?
How would you describe the nature of Rasia’s relationship with Lena?
In reporting Lena’s situation to the authorities, is Rasia acting solely in Lena’s best interest, or might she be acting to protect her son?
Why do you think Vaclav, at seventeen, resists sex with his girlfriend?
Discuss the chapter headings. How do they interact with the rest of the text?
How does Lena’s trauma manifest itself when she is a child? A teenager? Do you think her wounds can be healed?
Ekaterina tells Vaclav that she did the best she could for Lena. Do you think this is true?
Read “Illusions and Vaclav & Lena” by Reading Group Choices' Neely Kennedy for discussible topics and themes!