Summary of “Greta & Valdin” – A Book Laden with Humor, Culture and Wonderful Emotion

Summary of “Greta & Valdin” – A Book Laden with Humor, Culture and Wonderful Emotion

Cover of Greta & Valdin

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In “Greta & Valdin,” Rebecca K. Reilly presents an engaging and humorous exploration of love, family dynamics, and cultural identity. Set in Auckland, New Zealand, this novel delves into the lives of two siblings, Greta and Valdin Vladisavljevic, who share a unique cultural heritage of Māori, Russian, and Catalonian descent. The book shines a spotlight on the quirks and challenges of modern adulthood, especially for those grappling with multiracial identities and queer experiences.

The novel “Greta & Valdin” by Rebecca K. Reilly was initially released in New Zealand before its international publication. It gained considerable attention and acclaim upon its initial release. The novel was described by The New York Times as one of 17 new books to watch out for in February 2024, highlighting its portrayal of “two queer, charmingly messy 20-something siblings in New Zealand as they tentatively step into adulthood in an ever-shifting and increasingly chaotic contemporary age”​​. The book’s success in New Zealand and the anticipation surrounding its international release reflect its appeal and the significance of its themes and storytelling.

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Book Summary:

The novel is centered around the siblings Greta and Valdin, who live together in Auckland. Greta is in love with Holly, an English tutor who seems to be using her more for administrative support than for a genuine relationship. On the other hand, Valdin is still in love with his ex-boyfriend Xabi, who left the country thinking he was causing Valdin sadness. Throughout the book, both siblings face various challenges and revelations about their worth and lovability.

The story takes an emotional turn when Greta finds her nephew Tang crying on her doorstep, heartbroken over having to break up with his girlfriend because he’s in love with a man. Another poignant moment occurs when Valdin contemplates his feelings and his past while preparing for a trip to Buenos Aires, where Xabi now lives.

The Vladisavljevic family, with their Maori-Russian-Catalonian background, adds a rich layer of cultural complexity and warmth to the narrative. Their collective experiences provide insights into queerness, multiracial identity, and the impact of colonialism, all woven together with a thread of karaoke and family eccentricities.

Valdin, a sensitive and intelligent gay man with a mixed Russian and Māori heritage, deeply immersed in his academic research at a university in Auckland

Rendition of Valdin

Character Analysis:

Greta is a character full of life and complexity. Her struggles with love and self-worth are relatable and deeply human. She often finds herself contemplating her choices and desires, reflecting a deep internal struggle that resonates with many readers.

Valdin, equally rich in character, is portrayed as thoughtful and introspective. His journey through heartbreak, self-discovery, and acceptance is a significant part of the novel, offering a sensitive portrayal of a young gay man navigating the complexities of love and identity.




“Greta & Valdin” is a book that offers humor, emotional depth, and a unique cultural perspective. It appeals to a broad audience, especially those interested in contemporary stories about familial relationships, identity, and the queer experience. The novel’s ability to intertwine humor with poignant moments makes it a memorable read.

The novel was published by Harlequin MIRA on May 31, 2022, and has 352 pages​​. It’s described by The New York Times as a book that follows “two queer, charmingly messy 20-something siblings in New Zealand as they tentatively step into adulthood in an ever-shifting and increasingly chaotic contemporary age”​​.


  • “Greta & Valdin” will appeal to readers interested in cultural narratives, family dynamics, and character-driven stories.


  • This novel can be compared to “Pachinko” by Min Jin Lee in its exploration of family and cultural identity, although “Greta & Valdin” has a more contemporary and lighter tone.
A vibrant and independent young Greta, with a mixed Russian and Māori heritage, working in a cozy cafe in Auckland, New Zealand.

Rendition of Greta

In-depth Analysis:


  1. Character Development: Reilly excels in creating multi-dimensional characters. Greta and Valdin are not just symbols of their cultures; they are fully realized individuals with distinct voices and relatable struggles.
  2. Cultural Representation: The novel’s portrayal of mixed heritage—Russian and Māori—is both nuanced and respectful, offering a unique perspective on identity.
  3. Humor and Heart: Reilly balances humor with emotional depth, making the narrative both entertaining and poignant.


  1. Pacing: Some sections of the novel might feel slow, especially for readers accustomed to fast-paced narratives.
  2. Complexity: The intricate web of family relationships can be challenging to follow at times.


  • The blend of Māori and Russian cultures is a rare and intriguing aspect of this novel, offering a fresh perspective in contemporary literature.

Literary Devices:

  • Reilly’s use of dialogue is particularly noteworthy, capturing the essence of each character and their cultural backgrounds.
  • Imagery: Vivid descriptions of Auckland bring the setting to life, immersing the reader in the environment.

Relation to Broader Issues:

  • The novel touches on themes of cultural identity, sexuality, and the search for belonging—universal issues that resonate with a wide audience.

Thematic Analysis:

  • The novel extensively explores themes of identity, love, and the complexity of family ties. The struggle to balance one’s cultural heritage with personal identity is a central theme.

Stylistic Elements:

  • Reilly’s writing style is engaging, with a mix of humor and sincerity. The narrative switches between Greta and Valdin’s perspectives, offering a well-rounded view of their lives.

Comparisons to Other Works:

  • Similar to “The Namesake” by Jhumpa Lahiri, “Greta & Valdin” delves into the journey of self-discovery and the impact of cultural heritage on identity.

Potential Test Questions with Answers:

  1. Q: How do Greta and Valdin’s mixed cultural backgrounds influence their characters? A: Their backgrounds shape their worldview, struggles with identity, and their interactions with others, reflecting the complexity of navigating multiple cultural identities.
  2. Q: Describe the role of humor in the novel. A: Humor is used to lighten the narrative, provide relatability, and offer insight into characters’ personalities and coping mechanisms.

About the Author, Rebecca Reilly:

“Greta & Valdin,”  was first published in May 2021 by Victoria University Press in New Zealand. The book quickly garnered attention and praise for its fresh and humorous take on the family and romantic relationships of two siblings, both queer and of mixed Russian and Māori descent, set against the backdrop of Auckland. It was lauded for fusing socio-political commentary with humor, making it both smart and funny. The novel was recognized with the Hubert Church Prize for Fiction for Best First Book at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards, a testament to its impact and excellence in storytelling.

Rebecca K. Reilly, born in 1991, is a New Zealand author of Ngāti Hine and Ngāti Wai descent. She completed a Master of Arts in Creative Writing at the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University of Wellington, where she received the 2019 Adam Foundation Prize in Creative Writing for her debut novel, then titled “Vines,” which was later renamed “Greta & Valdin.” The novel was the outcome of about a year and a half of writing, although Reilly had been collecting material for 14 years, reflecting a deep engagement with the themes and characters of her work.

The novel’s critical acclaim and popularity led to it being shortlisted for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. It also achieved notable commercial success, ranking high on the Nielsen best-seller books chart in New Zealand and winning the Aotearoa Booksellers’ Choice Award at the 2022 Aotearoa Book Trade Industry Awards. This success in New Zealand paved the way for its upcoming international release in the UK and USA, scheduled for February 6, 2024​​​​.

“Greta & Valdin” by Rebecca K. Reilly is best suited for adult readers. This recommendation is based on the novel’s themes, which include complex family dynamics, cultural identity, and queer experiences. Additionally, the book’s exploration of romantic relationships and its use of humor and socio-political commentary align more closely with the interests and understanding of an adult audience. Therefore, it’s most appropriate for readers aged 18 and above.

Bibliographic Information of the US Release:

  • ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7
  • Publisher: Harlequin MIRA
  • Page Count: 352 pages​​
  • The novel was published in the UK and USA on February 6, 2024​​.
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Greta and Valdin
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