Vaclav & Lena: Russian couple pushed and pulled by fate

Haley Tanner's debut novel about two young Russian emigrants' hopes and dreams is enchanting.
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner. William Heinemann
Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner. William Heinemann

Haley Tanner's debut novel is split into four unequal parts - Together; Apart: Vaclav; Apart: Lena and Together Again - words which reveal a great deal about the arc of this "strangers in a foreign land" love story.

Tanner unravels the tale of Vaclav and Lena, childhood sweethearts displaced from their native Russia by economic hardship and now, barely 10 years old, scratching out their schooldays together in New York, blinking their way through lessons that Lena struggles to comprehend.

The two have plans, both childish and grand, to chase the American Dream - Vaclav intends to become a world-famous magician (in the style of David Copperfield), while Lena will act as his glamorous assistant.

But life and circumstance inevitably sweep the two apart before their vision becomes a reality.

Tanner's section headings tell you where the story will eventually end. No surprise there, but to her credit, this enchanting debut has the reader rooting for a reunion long before its inevitable conclusion looms into view. The dark secrets of Lena's lost years also provide plenty of pause for thought.

Published: August 19, 2011 04:00 AM