Vaclav & Lena

“Here, I practice, and you practice.”

There is a small sense of doom following you throughout this story. No, gloom. The expectation of Things Go Wrong. Tanner continues to walk the thin line between ‘Oh No Look Here It Comes’ and keeping the reader comfortable. After all, this is just a small story about two immigrant children who find comfort in each other, right?

Even after finishing it, I don’t know if I can answer that question. There are hints about something slumbering underneath Vaclav and Lena’s struggle to fit in with the other students, to learn English and be American instead of Russian, even though everything they know is just that. Lena talks very little, while Vaclav has a very concerned and interested parent. He dreams of becoming the next Houdini and she dreams along with him, because she doesn’t know what else to dream about.
But than something happens and the two are unraveled, have to learn to leave as separate people. The curtain is slowly pulled open, but never completely, leaving space to ponder what happened. And more importantly, what you want to have happened, because the options are open.

Vaclav & Lena is a small and silent story that will sneak underneath your skin.

Vaclav & Lena, Haley Tanner, Heinemann 2011

Mudbound

Henry and I dug the hole seven feet deep.

This is a tough one. Not because this novel is badly written or has a boring story, far from the opposite. This is a tough one because some of the situations in it made me very uncomfortable.

Mudbound tells the story of different characters. The family that moves into a cotton farm, the people that work for them and serve them and the bystanders from the nearest village. As all of this happens in 1946 Mississippi, so you might already understand that there are no balanced relationships here. The woman needs to serve her family first, theĀ  man needs to take care of the farm and protect what is his from ‘those’ people, while the members from ‘those’ people desperately try to break free from the box society pushes them into.
It made me slightly nauseous to read how careless slurs and threats are thrown around, how someone, only based on their skin colour , can turn into a free for all for entertainment and anger and shame.

And yet Mudbound is more than a confrontation with racism. It is an image of a vastly different time not that long ago, of a family that is drifting and pulled apart by its surroundings. And there is a raw, uncomfortable beauty to the way that had been written.

Mudbound, Hillary Jordan, Heinemann 2008