The Adventures of Vaclav the Magnificent & His Lovely Assistant Lena by Haley Tanner

DATE FINISHED: May 12th, 2012

RATED: *** (3.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Both children of Russian immigrants to Brooklyn, Vaclav and Lena have been inseparable since the first day they met and saw the magic act at a Coney Island sideshow. Vaclav becomes magician-in-training (with his lovely assistant Lena), and nobody questions why Lena barely eats and spends all of her time at Vaclav’s house or why he should do her homework. One night, Lena disappears from 10 year old Vaclav’s life with no explanation, leaving a gaping wound where VacLena has been separated. It is only when Lena re-finds Vaclav on her 17th birthday that the missing pieces are slotted back together…

THOUGHTS:  The third person, present tense narrative reflects Vaclav and Lena’s growing grasp of the English language, which did initially grate on me, but became less grating as they grew older. The dramatically opposing characters of Vaclav and Lena are well-drawn, but I found Vaclav’s mother, Rasia, far more interesting, and more poignant. The darkness that Lena has hidden from herself in the years since she left Vaclav and Rasia behind is also convincingly portrayed.

Tanner creates engaging characters, and portrays truths, differences and unpleasantnesses about the immigrant experience. At the same time, the story holds no real surprises (Lena’s secret is fairly well signposted) and although it is told in an original voice, the predictable curve of the narrative means that it is likeable, readable, but not quite the magnificent, showstopping magic act the title might lead one to hope for.

FOLLOWING ON:  Vaclav’s journey as a magician is not as comprehensive but still reminiscent of Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold.


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