The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko: A Novel by Scott Stambach

Setting: Belarus
Genre: General Fiction
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Release Date: August 9, 2016

I admit that Scott Stambach fooled me. I knew The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko was fictional, but it really does seem like you're reading an orphan's diary. I even looked up the hospital to see if it existed. Every inch of me was heartbroken for these children needed to be adopted and given a chance at a new life outside those walls.

Ivan is a 17-year-old male who has lived in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children since birth. He has Connective Tissue Disorder, which means his legs and one arm are nubs. The other arm ends in a hand with only three digits. While his body may not be complete, his mind certainly is. With the help of Nurse Natalya, Ivan reads all he can. He uses his knowledge and the occasional faked catatonic state to outwit the staff at the hospital. Nurse Natalya is the only one who never falls for his ruses.

Ivan is smart, witty, and very likable. He judges those who enter the hospital. He takes on the role of protector to you a toddler who enters, even learning to change a diaper with his one arm and partial hand. When Polina enters, he's thrown off his usual games. Polina is beautiful, a cancer patient. She's as smart as Ivan, and he can't help but become attached to her.

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko focuses on Ivan's insights, his developing relationships with those around him (even though he tries so hard to avoid them), and his internal conversations with the mother he never knew. This story has moments of brutal honesty, many that tug at the heartstrings, and even more that brought a smile to my face. It's a lovely book and one that makes you stop and think about the ongoing damages Chernobyl has caused.


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