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

Published: 2017-09-19
Paperback : 352 pages
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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 ...

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Introduction

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.

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Discussion Questions

1. Ivan lives a very detached and carefully managed existence. He does this so he doesn’t have to feel too much or worry about any surprises. What is it about Polina or his relationship with her that is able to change his most entrenched habits?

2. Many of the themes of this book have to do with our heart’s deepest values, those things that bring purpose and meaning to life and define how we want to be in the world. What are the core values that help guide your life?

3. Ivan seems to be both terrified and drawn to Polina because she is someone who can reflect his reality back to him. What does this mean for Ivan? What does this mean for us as human beings?

4. Ivan seems annoyed that Riddick is able to cure the hearthole children while the rest of the patients are left hanging in the breeze. He even quotes his hero Nabokov: "the world needs happy endings no matter how unethical." Why does Ivan use this quote?

5. At the end of the day, what can we learn about our world—and ourselves—from Ivan’s story?

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