Vaclav and Lena

Vaclav and Lena

4.2 42
by Haley Tanner
     
 

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NAMED BY THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION AS A 5 UNDER 35 AUTHOR
 
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…  See more details below

Overview

NAMED BY THE NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION AS A 5 UNDER 35 AUTHOR
 
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.
 
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Praise for Vaclav & Lena
 
“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
 
“A debut to savor . . . Tanner’s charming story unfolds as gracefully as a flower.”—People
 
“The magic Tanner makes is as dazzling as it is profound.”—Booklist

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Editorial Reviews

Susannah Meadows
…wonderful and wrenching…Whimsical love stories are tough to pull off. But as in the film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, vibrant characters, believable romance and dark undertones make for a moving tale. The book's contrast between childhood fantasy and the grim world outside tamps down the cutesiness. It helps that Ms. Tanner is such a strong storyteller, and her distinctive voice—winsome without being dopey—engulfs you immediately.
—The New York Times
From the Publisher
“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
 
“A debut to savor . . . Tanner’s charming story unfolds as gracefully as a flower.”—People
 
“The magic Tanner makes is as dazzling as it is profound.”—Booklist

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780679603870
Publisher:
Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
05/17/2011
Sold by:
Random House
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
320
Sales rank:
214,170
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

No Assistant, No Magician
 
            "Here, I practice, and you practice.  Ahem.  AH-em.  I am Vaclav the Magnificent, with birthday on the fourth of December, the famous day for the generations to celebrate and rejoice, a day in the future years eclipsing Christmas and Hannukah and Ramadan and all pagan festivals of that season of winter, born in a land far, far, far, far, far, far, far distance from here, a land of ancient and magnificent secrets, a land of enchanted knowledge passed down from the ages and from the ancients, a land of illusion, (Russia!) born there in Russia and reappearing here, in America, in New York, in Brooklyn, (which is a Borough) near Coney Island, which is a famous place of magic in the great land of opportunity (which is, of course, America) where anyone can become anything, where a hobo today is tomorrow a businessman in a three-pieces-suit, and a businessman yesterday is later this afternoon a hobo, Vaclav the Magnificent, who shall, without no doubt, be ask to perform his mighty feats of enchantment for dukes and presidents and czars and ayatollahs, uniting them all in awe struck and dumb-strucks, and thus, one day in the future years, be heralding a new era (which is a piece of time) of peace on earth.  Ladies and gentlemans, I give you, I present to you, I warn you in advance of his arrival so that you may close your eyes or put your hands on your face if you are afraid, Vaclav the Magnificent, Boy-Magician."
"Eh," Lena says in a grumbly voice.

"Lena, what we are having here is perfect introduction to the act.  It is long and perfect and made of only the best and longest thesaurus words," says Vaclav. 

"After third sentence, say, Magic is art of control events with supernatural powers," says Lena.  This sentence is a favorite of Lena’s- she memorized it from the Magician’s Almanac, which is big old black book with gold all around the edges of the pages, all about magic and tricks and illusions.  Vaclav kept checking the Almanac out of the library, so last year for his birthday she put it in her backpack and took it home with her, so that she could give it to him for a birthday present, and it could be theirs forever.

"That sounds good, but is not belonging in the act.  I already told you.  This is the introduction, complete.   Seal it now with the magic birthday candle."   Vaclav folds the notebook paper on which the introduction to the act is written and he holds it out to Lena.  Lena does not take it from him. Lena holds the magic birthday candle in her left hand and rubs its spiraled ridges with her thumb.   In her right hand, she holds the lighter with which she is to light the candle.  The wax-dripping paper-sealing is an important part of anything Vaclav and Lena write, and it is Lena's job, exclusively Lena's, to light the magic birthday candle, to hold it high, and to then let the wax drip onto the folded paper, sealing it for all of time.

Under Vaclav’s bed, next to a forgotten sock that , among many gatherings of fuzzy dusty things, is a shoe box full of pieces of notebook paper folded and sealed with Lena’s wax drips.  The things written on them are important declarations, pacts, lists, and other artifacts of the lives of the young magicians.
“We write and finish now, Lena, and tonight I will ask permission to have a show."

"Impossible," Lena says.

"Possible.  I can make this happen.  Maybe not tonight, but soon.  And so we seal the introduction, which means we can begin on the act.   Once we have permission, we perform.  Light.  Melt.  It is done."

"Unfold.   Write.  Magic is art of control events using supernatural powers."

"I will not, Lena, no.  This is not part of the introduction of the act, this does not belong.  It is very good English, but it does not belong. This is the introduction, which we must seal, so that it will be, and so that we begin work on practice the act."

Lena looks at the lighter she stole from the pocket of The Aunt’s robe.  Lena knows is not right to steal unless you need something really badly, and the person is not home, and won’t even realize the thing is missing.  Stealing the lighter felt scary, and it felt good, and brave.  Lena feels very brave with the lighter in her hand, very grown-up.
“Why you are the boss always?” Lena asks.

“For one thing I am magician and you are assistant.  Assistant is second to magician.  There is no assistant without magician,” says Vaclav.

“Without assistant, no magician,” says Lena.
“I am one year older than you,” says Vaclav.
“Ten is only little more than nine-and-three-quarters,” says Lena.
“Magician is more important than assistant, because…” says Vaclav, getting ready to say one more thing to prove that he should have authority over Lena.  He wants to win this argument, even though he knows they will have this argument again.  This fight is a fight they have over and over again.  It is like the famous argument between the chicken and the egg, about which came first, and which one is more important and better than the other. This fight is never resolved because it is impossible to prove which came first or which is better when actually both things are the same thing.

There is a knock on the door. Lena and Vaclav look at the door with wide, terrified eyes.  There are three loud knocks, and then the doorknob jiggles, but does not open, because the door is locked. 

Vaclav is filled with regret.  Locking the door was a terrible idea.  A locked door indicates to Vaclav's mother that something illicit may be happening in the bedroom of the young magician.

"Vaclav!  Open the door right now or I'll open it for you!  You wanndo this hard way or the easy way?!" 

Lena and Vaclav shove their magic things under the bed, hide them behind the eyelet-perforated dust-ruffles of the bedskirt.  

"Coming, coming!" says Vaclav, scrambling to his feet.  As soon as Vaclav unlocks the door, it bursts open, pushing him backward.  

 Rasia's eyes search the room.  Rasia doesn’t know what she is looking for, but all the time she is worried.  Every day at ten-past five she rushes home as fast as she can, because her son is growing and changing every second and she has only so many hours to mold him like clay.  She has only so many hours to show him that it is important to do homework, to have dinner like a family, to not do drugs or to steal or to be a lazy person or a cheat.  She must protect him from pedophiles, from strangers, from other children at his school who might bully him, from guns, and from carbon monoxide poisoning. She is worried, because he comes home to an empty house after school, he is what they call the latch-key kid, and she is a working mother, and they live in an urban area, and Vaclav attends a crowded public school, and all these things are the ingredients of disaster, if you are listening to the news, which she is, carefully, vigilantly, always to see what next to be afraid of.

"I do not like what I see here.  What is going on here when I am not home?"

"Nothing!  We are doing nothing!  Homework.  We are doing nothing but homework," Vaclav says.

"Nothing and homework for three hours?  This I do not believe.  I want to see all homework after dinnertime."   Rasia backs away toward the door, keeping her eyes on Lena.  She’s worried about Lena because of the well-known occupation of The Aunt.   This is unfair and also fair at the same time. 

“Okay, nothing and homework and, also, maybe a little practicing the magic act,” Vaclav says.  Rasia steps back into the room.
“Maybe a little practicing the magic act?” 
“Actually, yes we are practicing the magic act,” Vaclav says trying to look earnest, “...maybe, also, if it is okay with you, because all homework is done, maybe...”  Vaclav looks up at his mother, and Rasia looks down at her son, at this dancing around what he wants, at his velcro sneakers digging nervous little circles in the carpet.
“Maybe what?” says Rasia. 
“Maybe, before we are eating dinner...” says Vaclav.
“Say what you are saying,”  says Rasia, narrowing her eyes.
“Can Lena and I do for you a magic show, in the living room, before dinner?”  Vaclav says, very fast, all in one breath.
“All homework is done?” she asks.
“Yes, all is done,” Vaclav says, even though his homework is only mostly done.
“Lena, you are staying for dinner?”  Rasia asks.
"Dah," says Lena.
"English!" says Rasia.
"Ye-us," says Lena, with a growl.
“Table must be set before any magic is happening.  Homework must be done,” Rasia says.

Vaclav smiles, because he knows that this is her way of saying yes.
Rasia scowls at the room for one extra minute, just to eradicate any funny business that may or may not be happening, then, satisfied, she finally leaves the room, pulling the door almost-shut behind her.  As soon as she is gone, Vaclav and Lena jump up and down and squeal with excitement, and then start scrambling frantically to prepare their magnificent act.


Lady and Gentleman

 
Vaclav and Lena turn off the big-screen television in the living room.  They push the big mahogany coffee table back against the wall; it is a perfect stage, black and solid and shiny.  They have moved the coffee table this way many times, it is easy to push across the big threadbare persian rug.

Vaclav and Lena stand on stage, waiting for the audience to take their seats.

“DAD,”  Vaclav shouts, “Come on, we’re ready!”  Rasia is already sitting on the big black leather sofa, waiting for the show to start.  Vaclav’s father  comes in with a glass of vodka in his hand and sinks down into the sofa.

“Okay, so I am here.  What are we watching.  What are you going to show.”  Vaclav’s father says.
“Only watch, okay?”  Vaclav wears his school clothes, jeans and a green-t-shirt, with his bow-tie hanging around his neck and his magician’s top hat on his head.  Lena wears only her normal clothes, jeans and a sweater, because she has not made her costume yet. 

“First, welcome to my lovely and intellectual audience.  Lady, and gentleman, you are in for quite a surprise.  I am Vaclav the Magnificent, and this,my assistant, the Lovely Lena,” Vaclav swings his left arm out to indicate Lena, who takes a long, deep, serious bow. 

Vaclav and the audience wait in silence for her to return to an upright position.

“Tonight we have for you a special treat which will astound and amaze you.  May I please, from the audience, give someone the honor of volunteering a quarter to give to me to be involved in a magical trick?”
“This is scam,” says Vaclav’s father.
“Dad!” says Vaclav.
“Oleg, give it,” growls Rasia, and with much moaning and groaning, he reaches under his butt and into his pocket and retrieves a warm quarter, then hands it to his son.

“Thank you, kind sir.  Much appreciate.”  Vaclav holds the coin pinched between his forefinger and his thumb, and holds it forward for the audience to inspect.

“Lena, if you will, the paper.”  Lena produces a sheet of paper from behind her back.  She steps forward to the front of the stage, and shows the audience the front of the paper, the back of the paper, and the edges of the paper.  She holds the sheet of paper up to the light, then she steps back.

“As my lovely assistant is showing this is a normal piece of paper - no holes or rips or no tears.  This is just a normal paper.  Thank you Lena.”  Lena nods.

“Please watch carefully.  I am now folding the paper around the coin.”  Vaclav folds the paper several times, so that the coin is contained within it, as in an envelope.  Rasia scoots a bit forward on the couch, following her son’s direction to watch carefully.  Oleg crosses his arms.  Oleg has sleeping marks like deep scars on his face and neck, and hairs bursting out of the top of his shirt.

“You can see that the coin is completely sealed within the paper.”  Lena steps next to Vaclav, and extends her hands sideways to draw the audiences attention here, to the mysterious coin-wrapped-in-paper.

Focusing carefully, Vaclav passes the paper-wrapped coin from his left to his right hand.   He doesn’t explain this movement.  Lena puts her arms stiffly up in the air and twirls around and around, coming dangerously close to the edge of the coffee table.  Rasia gasps, afraid for Lena to fall.

“Using my magic wand, I will now make the coin disappear from thin air,” Vaclav says, holding the coin-packet stiffly in his right hand, and nervously slipping his left hand into his back pocket.  Lena attempts to shimmy, twitching her bony shoulders back and forth.

Vaclav keeps his hand in his pocket for a moment of Lena’s shimmying, and then removes it, smiling, and shows the audience his magic wand. 

Vaclav’s magic wand is one of his most special things.  It is a real magic wand, from the magician’s supply shop in Manhattan.  His mother took him, and they had to ride on the subway for more than an hour to get there, and they had to transfer twice.  At the store, they asked the shop owner for help picking out the best wand, and afterward, they had lunch at a restaurant, and Vaclav held it in his lap the entire time.
Vaclav taps this very wand three times on the paper packet. 

“Abracadabra!” he says, with the final tap, “The coin has disappeared!” 
“Lena,” he says, “my lovely assistant, if you would be kind, please take this paper envelope and tear it into two complete pieces.”  Lena takes the paper packet from him, and effortlessly tears the paper in two.  She then shows the paper pieces to the audience, and once the audience has seen sufficient evidence of the disappearance of the quarter, she throws the pieces of paper up into the air, for dramatic effect.

Vaclav and Lena bow, so that the audience knows to begin clapping. 

“Fantastic!” Says Rasia, although she is not sure which part of the trick was the trick.  She is almost certain that she was not supposed to see Vaclav tip the coin out of the paper packet and into his open hand, and that she was not supposed to see him put the coin into his pocket when he went to take out the wand..
Vaclav and Lina bow again.

“Bravo!” says Rasia.  Vaclav and Lena step down from the coffee table.
“Where is my quarter,” says Oleg.
“A magician never reveals the secrets,” says Vaclav.
“Oleg,” says Rasia to his father, meaning, do not ask about the quarter again.
“Thank you,” says Vaclav, “I am glad you like.  Lena and I will perform this on Saturday for fans at the boardwalk of Coney Island.”  Vaclav is beaming. 
“Vaclav,” Rasia takes a deep breath.  She’s been trying to ignore this idea of a performance at Coney Island, but Vaclav won’t forget. He’s too persistant.  He doesn’t know that this is a very bad idea.
“This is not such a good idea,” she says.
“Why?”  asks Vaclav.
“It just is not.”  How can she tell him the truth?  She can’t tell him that the drunks and the teenagers at Coney Island will laugh at him.  She can’t tell him that he will humiliate himself.  She can’t tell him that no one will clap, that no one will do ooh and aah.
“Why?”  asks Vaclav.
“It is not safe.”  This is maybe close to being honest, she thinks.  It is not safe, for Vaclav, out in the world, with his eyes open to everything and his heart beating right on his sleeve, with his dreams in his hands, ready to show and tell.     
“That’s not fair!  We must practice to do the show for a REAL audience!”  he yells.  This is fine, she tells herself, to let him think she is being the meanest person in the world.  Let him think that she does not want him to perform his magic.
“That is the final word.  I will not discuss,” she says.
“I cannot believe!” says Vaclav.
“Go wash your hands and get ready for dinner,” she says.  “Lena, you too.”
Rasia stands at the door as Vaclav and Lena march toward a dinner which is not the thing they are hungry for.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Meet the Author

Haley Tanner lives in Brooklyn. This is her first novel.

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Vaclav and Lena 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
JamesterCK More than 1 year ago
I received this book as an ARC through Shelf Awareness. I immediately wanted to read it, because it sounded like such a sweet story, but it goes a lot deeper than just a romance between two people. Vaclav and Lena were first forced together when they were young, neither one really having any friends. Their imperfect English held them back from fully connecting with the American kids they went to school with. However, when they were together, they knew that the other would accept them unconditionally. It was easy to how much Vaclav adored Lena and that he would do anything for her. It was obvious that Lena cared for Vaclav as well, but her shocking and appalling home life made her extremely introverted; it was as if she had a wall up, even around her best friend, Vaclav. I could sense that there was something darker going on in Lena's home life that wasn't coming to light at the beginning, something more awful than just being left to fend for herself all of the time. My heart broke when Lena disappeared from Vaclav's life. She was his world, his sun and she was simply ripped away from him. No goodbyes, no finality. Just left to wonder if he would ever see her again. The first part of the book went between telling the story from Vaclav and Lena's perspectives. I liked that, as it was nice to get a glimpse into what both of them were going through (although like I said, Lena remained somewhat of a mystery). The middle of the book takes place 7 years later and it is split up into two parts: Lena's story and Vaclav's story. This gives a lot more insight into Lena's life, especially in the time when she was very young, before she even met Vaclav. I think the sweetest thing is that even after all of that time, Vaclav still said goodnight to Lena, every single night. He was afraid that if he stopped doing so something bad would happen to her. Even after all of the time they spent apart, she was still the last thing he thought about before he went to bed. Each section of the book is split up into little chapters. I liked the cute, descriptive chapter names (you'll see what I mean when you read it!) and I loved how short the chapters were. They were each like little stories all in their own. The last part of the book reveals a lot of answers I had been waiting for the whole time and that is why I'm not going to go into too much more detail about the book. I do want to share one of my favorite quotes from the book (however, keep in mind that I read the ARC, so things might be different in the finished copy): "Vaclav had already known that she was sitting there before he even saw her. He had felt her looking at him, He had known it was her, had to be her, because he felt, suddenly, the compulsion to turn and look at that bench, to look in her direction, like there were magnets in his eyes and she was a supermagnetized hunk of some other planet, just fallen to earth." This was a wonderful book, showing how love can withstand space and time. It also shows how childhood can shape a person, for better or worse. I definitely recommend giving this book a chance; it's a fairly quick read, especially since I couldn't put it down, and it was impossible not to feel for the characters and fall in love with them.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed reading this book very much its a great story with parts that moved me and parts that msde me laugh. I recommend it
thewanderingjew More than 1 year ago
She is 9, he is 10. They speak in the tongue of foreigners, translating their thoughts directly to English so that the grammar is sometimes convoluted, but the meaning comes through. Although it begins as a kismet-type love story, a deeper story soon develops alongside. When the story begins, Lena is living with an aunt; she seems rather neglected and frail, often left alone. Her origins are unknown. Her past is fraught with dysfunction, and she eventually finds ways to separate herself into many parts in order to survive. Vaclav lives in a more normal environment with two loving parents. Before Lena's arrival, his one true love was magic. Afterwards, they both proceed to explore that world together, as their friendship grows. His mom is the stronger of his two parents and is the major breadwinner. She often assumes responsibility for Lena and tries to protect her. She will do anything to protect her son, as well, and tries to provide him with opportunities she never had, stressing his need for a good education. His father is often crude and sometimes cruel and sarcastic. He was not successful as an architect, even back in Russia. He is not very ambitious and tends to laziness. Vaclav is an easily likeable character who is warm, open and obedient; Lena is a sympathetic, sad little character who is immature, often secretive. Lena has the capacity to be cruel while Vaclav does not. Both seem very naïve about life and the pitfalls they might face. I found, also, that the author often provided them with thoughts that seemed too mature for them, even as they behaved like children. Two small Russian children are trying to make a life for themselves in a new country that they know nothing about. They are not even comfortable with the language. How can they fit? There are only a few people they can communicate with, and sometimes it is awkward because of the phraseology they choose as they learn to speak English. The short, vignette-type chapters are easy to read and keep the momentum going in this tale of love and loss, hardship and poverty. The story of how these immigrant families navigate the world is sometimes tender, sometimes anxious and often disturbing, but always underneath, the theme is that Vaclav and Lena are in love. The author has presented an interesting, creative scenario. I was surprised, at first, by the way the content was presented; it seemed juvenile, but the concepts were not. In the end, it all fit in and you discover you have just read a fairy tale told with modern day issues at the core. The story is a testament to the power of love. It could possibly be a selection for young adults too, as well as adults, since there is nothing terribly overt, even when tales of abuse are related. Descriptions of sex and wrongdoing are dealt with very simply as are most of the more mature concepts in the tale. I am not sure this book is for everyone. For me, it was an excellent selection. It completely held my interest, and although it was simplistic, it was a perfect fit for the development of this novel and its purpose. I do think that the cover could be more interesting. If I did not receive the book from the publisher, it would never have caught my eye. Surely, even a picture of two children holding hands might be more interesting then simply the title of the book with a picture of birds sitting on the ampersand. I think perhaps it was meant to present the fairy tale image from the get-go, but that didn't work for me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A beautiful and captivating book that goes much deeper than the typical love story. Amazing book!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was such a joy reading. Sadness, joy, and love. How a girl with such a troubled childhood could grow to be so smart and strong. You should absolutely read this!!!!!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I loved this read. I heard a review of this book on NPR and I too won't soon forget Vaclav and Lena.
jllfromnewyork More than 1 year ago
Its a story youll want to recommend to all your friends!
Mavis1129 More than 1 year ago
I honestly wouldn't have read this book if the publisher didn't send an advance copy to my house. The description on the back was pretty vague but I decided to read it anyway. I ended up really liking it. I was disappointed in the ending because I felt it was really rushed. Since the characters are Russian, the dialog is in broken English, which I find very charming to read. This book is about a boy and a girl who are best friends when they are young. Vaclav and his parents move to America from Russia when he is very young. Lena is the daughter of Russian parents who has been in America since she was a baby but is unsure who her parents are. She has lived with an old woman she calls a grandmother but is not related. When the old woman dies she moves in with her aunt who neglects her. Things start to change when Lena begins to make new friends at school and it is heartbreaking to Vaclav since she is his only friend. Even though she starts ignoring him, he doesn't give up on her. One day Lena disappears out of Vaclav's life only to reappear seven years later. Finally Vaclav finds out the truth surrounding her disappearance and Lena's troubled childhood. The love they have survives after being separated all these years.
mark ruben More than 1 year ago
Wonderfully fresh!! Wonderfully original!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
So I was assigned to read this book this summer and I have to say it was a pretty good book. It kept me at the edge of my seat because I was dying to know what would happen next. Everyohe should absouletly read it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
LeisureReader More than 1 year ago
I am listening to the book after first reading the first few chapters, and enjoy hearing the Russian accents to tell the story and the pronunciations of some of the names, etc. It is really a touching story and the characters are well presented and real.
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