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The 1986 Chernobyl disaster has been in the news again since Svetlana Alexievich, author of Voices from Chernobyl, won the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature. What we forget is that although Chernobyl was in Ukraine, much of the nuclear fallout also affected the neighboring state of Belarus. The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is first time novelist Scott Stambach's unforgettable imagining of the mostly interior life of one horribly deformed adolescent inmate at a Belarus hospital for abandoned babies and "Gravely Ill" children. Graphically told, unshirkingly honest, Ivan's grim days are enlightened by three great loves: literature, the maternal love of the kind nurse who sneaks him books and treats, and a recently orphaned girl with leukemia. It reminded me of The Tin Drum--stick with it a couple chapters, and I dare you to put it down.— From Carla's Picks
“Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko has spent his entire life in a cloistered world, but he possesses a keen intellect and an understanding of humanity that far exceeds the confines of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. Severely physically handicapped due to radiation poisoning, Ivan has never had a friend beyond his caregivers at the hospital -- until Polina is admitted. The two teens form a fast and indelible bond that will leave readers in awe of the tenacity of their commitment. Heartbreaking and awe-inspiring.”
— Pamela Klinger-Horn (E), Excelsior Bay Books, Excelsior, MN
In The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, Scott Stambach presents a hilarious, heart-wrenching, and powerful debut novel about an orphaned boy who finds love and hope in a Russian hospital.
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.
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
“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.” –Nickolas Butler, author of Shotgun Lovesongs
“The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is told in the voice of Ivan…His imagination may help him survive. And, as audience, we can only read about his life and allow our hearts to break more than once.” –Psychology Today
"Impressive... Stambach's surprising, empathetic novel takes on heavy themes of illness, suffering, religion, patience, and purpose, with a balanced mix of humor and heart."—Publishers Weekly
"An auspicious, gut-wrenching, wonderful debut." —Kirkus (starred review)
"The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko must be counted as a miracle of a book.” –BookPage
"An extraordinarily brave and original debut. Ivan is an unforgettable narrator, and his story ripples with intelligence, humor, heartbreak, and humanity." –Carolina De Robertis, author of The Gods of Tango
“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. And in the character of Ivan Isaenko he has created an irresistible narrator, just what one would hope for in a seventeen-year-old raised on Nabokov and Dostoyevsky: by equal measures self-aware, hilarious, quick-witted, and profane. He is an original in every sense of the word, and his story is a marvelous one.” –Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, National Book Award Finalist and author of Madeleine is Sleeping
“It would be an easy injustice to spackle Ivan Isaenko with a bunch of clichéd praise: hilarious, poignant, heart-warming, heart-wrenching. While these are true, Ivan is so much more. It’s 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.” –Bradley Somer, author of Fishbowl
"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. A grittier, Eastern European, more grown-up The Fault in Our Stars." –Eowyn Ivey, author of The Snow Child