Review: THE INVISIBLE LIFE OF IVAN ISAENKO by Scott StambachThe Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
Published by St. Martin's Press on August 9th 2016
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction, Literary
eARC provided by St. Martin's Press

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The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest

Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement.

Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.
She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live.

Reading time 2 mins

This story was really emotional for me. The author begins as if he found this journal and allows Ivan’s own words to tell the story. I began reading and actually fell for the author’s introduction.It doesn’t matter if this is a true story or not. It is deliberately moving, extremely witty, and a little heartbreaking. From the first few words I was hooked.

Ivan is a very unique teenage character that is trapped in an unfortunate body. He is diagnosed with Connective tissue disorder, but his deformity includes malformation of his limbs. Ivan’s body has nubs for legs and only one arm, his hand only has three digits, and even his speech is affected. Ivan’s story never allows us to forget that, as I am sure he is always aware. He has lived his whole 17 years of life in Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in in Belarus. He is only one of many children affected by the Chernobyl disaster of 1986 and the continued radiation of the region.

The author tells his story factually, he isn’t seeking sympathy. Ivan’s life is one of routines in the hospital. He assumes the role of a mindless person so he can glean information from the medical staff. It works well until one witty nurse, Natalya, catches on. Natalya gives Ivan books and takes the time to get to know him. Ivan’s life takes a sharp turn when Polina, an orphaned teen with leukemia, gets admitted to the hospital. Polina is witty and challenges Ivan. Ivan’s story is written to her and for her. Her condition is also unfortunate but seeing her through Ivan’s eyes allowed me to fall so in love. Despite my best efforts to not get attached I couldn’t help myself. 

Ivan’s story is brilliant and surprising. This is not just a story that pulls on heartstrings. It redefines what it means to be alive. I want to reread this book just to get to hang out with these characters. Ivan is witty and honest about his situation. He is a typical teenage boy, with a really unique worldview.

The author mentions on his website that he was inspired to write Ivan’s story after he watched the documentary Chernobyl’s Heart. The author gives Ivan, and all the children affected by Chernobyl, a voice that needs to be heard. I cried, I loved, I learned, and I will not forget. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a thought provoking character.

My Rating


About Scott Stambach

14772284Scott Stambach lives in San Diego where he teaches physics and astronomy at Grossmont and Mesa colleges. He also collaborates with Science for Monks, a group of educators and monastics working to establish science programs in Tibetan Monasteries throughout India. He has written about his experiences working with monks of Sera Jey monastery and has published short fiction in several literary journals including Ecclectica, Stirring, and Convergence.

I received this product free of charge in exchange for an honest review. This post contains affiliate links. This review is in compliance with the FTC guidelines.

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