Monthly Archives: July 2011

‘Vaclav & Lena’ by Haley Tanner

Salt & Pepper, Abbot & Costello, Baskin & Robbins, Mork & Mindy, Vaclav & Lena… all famous pairs. This is a sweet and savoury, simple love story set in the Russian immigrant community of New York City. There is honesty, charm, and a bit of intrigue but more importantly, you get the sense that you are living in the novel.  This is a wonderful, simple summer read, fresh and original. Revel in the vibrant characters and let them take you to that old fashioned place where love still conquers all, but never cheaply or easily. There is a weight and substance to the writing that keeps it totally out of the whimsical and firmly rooted in the real world. The immigrant experience is also very well captured.

Vaclav and Lena are destined to be together but that does not mean that things go along without any obstacles. Life can be cruel and there are unexpected twists and turns for Vaclav the magician, and Lena his assistant. Lena disappears for seven long years, leaving Vaclav to wonder where she has gone and if she will ever return.

This would be a an excellent choice for a book club list. It is very well written, no matter what her writing professor and classmates said. Tanner whipped off the opening pages of Vaclav & Lena late one night for a writing class assignment due the next day. Her teacher and fellow students hated it but she said, forget them, and kept writing the story. I’m glad she did.

A poignant footnote about the author. She dedicates the book to her husband and says he is “on every page”. Gavin died of cancer. He was diagnosed two months before they met. There is a beautiful, but very sad, interview with both of them included in a New York Times article. The video is entitled ‘Love Endures Even Cancer’. It is not for the faint of heart – I would recommend that you view it after you have read the book.
Love Endures Even Cancer

‘Sing You Home’ by Jodi Picoult

A story about whom we love
Who we are
And how we define a family 

Jodi Picoult has done it again. She takes an issue, looks at it from a number of different angles, and sensitively tells a story that is captivating and educational. The usual Picoult formula is there, but not unpleasantly so, with different characters telling the story from their perspectives, something medical, a legal battle,  and then there is a surprise at the end.

Sing You Home is about gay rights in America and she captures many sides of the debate. Her son actually ‘came out’ to her while she was writing the book, which enhanced the reading for me. Here is Picoult on how that came about.

This book comes with a whole CD of songs written to accompany the novel. Picoult wrote the songs but her friend performs them as if it is the main character Zoe singing them.  Zoe is a music therapist and it is like she is sharing her art and skill in her work in this way. Music therapy is a remarkable profession that I knew very little about, and I enjoyed learning more. There was also a lot of information about IVF and what a stressful process that can be. And there is the question of what is a family in our world today? With the reality of blended families created by divorce and  remarriage, same-sex marriage and adoption, there may be more variations of family than we have traditionally seen.

No matter where you stand on the issue of gay rights, it is the personal stories of people whom you know that make all the difference. When you get away from politics and religion, you realize that it is simply about people who want the things that most of us want: a home, a family, and a loving relationship. Therefore, I will not say anything more and let you discover the story as it unfolds.

After you read the book and would like to know more, Jodi has an extensive conversation which I have included here as background information.  It is long but very, very well written, explaining where the ideas for the book originated and explaining how she did her research.
The story behind Sing You Home