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Vaclav & Lena ??? H. Tanner
Audio version performed by Heybourne/R. Lowman
Vaclav and Lena are 20th century Russian immigrant children growing up in New York City. The story is about friendship, family, secrets, and truth. It???s a picture of the immigrant experience within a coming of age story. Vaclav is a bright, imaginative boy who is loved and protected by his devoted mother. Lena is a neglected orphan left in the care of a disinterested Aunt. These children come together through their shared Russian background. They develop the kind of intense friendship that is a survival skill of lonely, isolated children. Vaclav draws Lena into his obsessive plan to become a great magician. Much time and imagination go into planning the first performance of ???the act???.
I expected to like this story more than I did. The characters are well drawn. Vaclav???s mother, Raisa, is the quintessential mother; always striving to do the best thing for her son and never knowing if her decisions are correct. Her parenting decisions are complicated by her alcoholic husband and her uncertainty about American culture. She tries to be like the American mothers she sees on T.V. Vaclav is a hyper-imaginative, self-centered little boy. Even as the 17 year-old at the end of book, he is amazingly unconscious of anyone else???s needs. Lena is a wounded, lost child. The happy ending of her new life as an adopted child is too simplistic given the damage that must be repaired.
I listened to this book. The audio production was well done with two performers. Kirby Heybourne read most of the story that was devoted to Vaclav???s perspective and Rebecca Lowman read the portion of the book that was told from Lena???s viewpoint. They did a good job with accents and character voices and they did as much as could be expected with a stilted prose style. I???m guessing that the author deliberately chose to write in the manner of an English Language Learner (ESL). It was a good ploy at the beginning. Short, repetitive, sentences; this is the way that I introduce language to my second language students. The problem for me as I listened to this book, is that I think Tanner continued her ESL voice for too much of the narrative. It was tedious to listen to paragraph after paragraph of sentences in which a character???s name is repeated over and over without the use of pronouns. I was left with the feeling that 17-year-old Vaclav had become fluent in English, but the author had not.
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What made the experience of listening to Vaclav & Lena the most enjoyable?
It's a great book, and the narrators animated the characters well, including their dialects.
What was one of the most memorable moments of Vaclav & Lena?
Well let's not give it away! This is a story that builds anticipation.
Which scene was your favorite?
Not giving that away either.
If you could take any character from Vaclav & Lena out to dinner, who would it be and why?
I'd take the author.
Any additional comments?
True, beautiful, honest.