Summary and book reviews of The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko

by Scott Stambach

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach X
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko by Scott Stambach
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2016, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2017, 336 pages

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Book Summary

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is comic and staggeringly tragic, often both in a single sentence… A grittier, Eastern European, more grown-up The Fault in Our Stars." – Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child

Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. Born deformed, yet mentally keen with a frighteningly sharp wit, strong intellect, and a voracious appetite for books, Ivan is forced to interact with the world through the vivid prism of his mind. 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. That is until a new resident named Polina arrives at the hospital. At first, Ivan resents Polina. She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her. She is exquisite. But 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.

PART ONE

The Count Up



Currently, the clock reads 11:50 in the P.M.

It is the second day of December.

The year is 2005.



I

The Anesthetization of Ivan Isaenko

Dear Reader, whom I do not know, who may never be, I write not for you but for me. I write because I can't sleep. I write because Polina is dead.

Currently, I'm drunk from three capfuls of vodka on a three-day-empty stomach. I have Nurse Natalya to thank for this. She is the only one who knows what I've lost. She is the closest thing I've ever had to a mother, and I know she thinks of me as a son. Like any good mother, she watches over me. For the last two days, she's checked on me every fifteen minutes. She checked on me seven times tonight, and every time I was wide awake. On the eighth time, she discreetly entered my room with a bottle of Stoli.

"Open your mouth, Ivan," she said. "It'll help you sleep."

She poured ...

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Reviews

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Stambach brings the grace of human nature to such a level that I found myself engrossed from page one. There are so many good novels just waiting to be read, that I rarely read one twice. I will make an exception with this novel. Stambach is that rare author that can capture the beauty of the human spirit in the most ugly of places and people.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers).

Full Review (510 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus
Starred Review. An auspicious, gut-wrenching, wonderful debut.

Publishers Weekly
Stambach's surprising, empathetic novel takes on heavy themes of illness, suffering, religion, patience, and purpose, with a balanced mix of humor and heart.

Author Blurb Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs
Ivan Isaenko is a beautiful, heartbreaking, and hilarious novel whose closest literary relative might be One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest ... will appeal to any reader with a beating heart - a true gem.

Author Blurb Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project
Compelling, intelligent and moving. The love story is executed with unflinching honesty and dark humor. A masterful novel.

Author Blurb Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is comic and staggeringly tragic, often both in a single sentence… Ivan Isaenko is one of the most surprising narrators I have encountered- witty, adolescent, well-read, at times quite vulgar, and confined to a life that seems nearly unlivable, until he discovers that even at Mazyr Hospital, love is possible.

Author Blurb Carolina De Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango
An extraordinarily brave and original debut. Ivan is an unforgettable narrator, and his story ripples with intelligence, humor, heartbreak, and humanity.

Author Blurb Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, National Book Award Finalist and author of Madeleine Is Sleeping
Only a writer with considerable heart and imagination could transform a hospital for post-Chernobyl fallout kids into a captivating, complex, nearly magical world. Scott Stambach has done exactly that... He is an original in every sense of the word, and his story is a marvelous one. -

Author Blurb Bradley Somer, author of Fishbowl
An enchantingly acerbic and endearingly charming story about love, hope and humanity in the face of death; truly a tender and thoughtful reflection on our universal malady.

Reader Reviews

Beverly J. (Hoover, AL)

Heartfelt and Rewarding
I love when a book just touches my heart in unexpected ways. The narrator, Ivan Isaenko soars off the pages in this exquisitely written warm-hearted debut. Seventeen year-old Ivan has only lived in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in ...   Read More

HoneyP

A human after all
This book brought to mind a photography exhibit I saw a few years ago of deformed and scarred people that permitted the viewer to stare and study in a way that we normally cannot. We see the workings of Ivan's mind in this well-written novel about a...   Read More

Rory A. (Henderson, NV)

Deeply Affecting
A deeply affecting look into the life of one young man with a boundless spirit within the confines of so many boundaries. A surprise for summer reading, for sure, and most welcome.

Carole P. (Framingham, MA)

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
How to describe this book? Amazing! Breathtaking! Inspiring ! Heartbreaking!. Seventeen year old Ivan lives in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. He has lived there his entire life. Ivan and all the children who live there were ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

A Brief Recent History of Belarus

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko deals with the aftermath of Chernobyl and is set in a hospital in Belarus.

While most of us think of Belarus as a part of the now fragmented Soviet Union, the country has a colorful history of being handed back and forth between Poland and Russia for centuries. Belarus was part of Poland (which borders Belarus on the West) until Poland was partitioned after a series of wars towards the end of the 18th century and Belarus became part of Russia. The early twentieth century saw more conflict. Taking advantage of Russia's preoccupation with the First World War, Belarus decided to break away and become independent while still under the protection of German forces.

A contemporary map of Belarus. It is bordered by Russia to the East, Poland to the West and Ukraine to the South. Unfortunately this newly established...

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