The book this month was my choice and it was The invisible life of Ivan Isaenko. It the story of a Chernobyl-child. Ivan is severely handicapped and has lived his entire life in Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. He doesn’t know his parents and he has (obviously) no real skills in how to interact with people even though he is incredibly bright and wellread.
The story is about him and Polina – a girl who comes to the hospital to die – but it is also a heart wrenching description of how inhumanly the children are treated and viewed. I wanted the book to take place in the 1800s not 2005. But the hospital is not a place for decent behaviour and compassion. Everyone is miserable even the staff who drinks and whores and shows no real interest in the children – except one, Natalya, who is the only one Ivan likes.
The shear disrespect for human life is made obvious not only the blatant disregard for the feelings of the children but also in how Ivan is taught to think about the other patients who are clearly autistic but are tormented and ridiculed by Ivan because he simply does not understand their condition and neither do the nurses. Or they don’t really care. That is entirely possible.
Ivan is not a likeable character but it also impossible not to feel sympathy for him. After all he is not the way he is because he is cruel by nature but he is created by his heartless and cold environment. He doesn’t really learn sympathy until Polina arrives. She is beautiful, and normal even though she is dying from leukaemia, and she disrupts his life.
I liked this book very much, depressing and heart wrenching as it was. It said on the cover: A voice you’ve never heard before and that was true. I hadn’t. But when I went on Goodreads I read that the author has been badgering a reviewer to take down the review because it was ‘mean spirited’. I will not go into whether or not it was but I find that very disturbing. Not everyone is going to like your book and when you describe kids with autism as ‘soulless’ you will hurt some people. I find it very bad behaviour from authors to harass reviewers because they don’t like the review they have gotten. It comes with the territory. Of course it sucks to be criticised but I can assure you you won’t change anyones mind by behaving like a d-bag.
That being said, I did cry in the end. I felt such a sorrow for the children of Chernobyl who are still born with defects, diseases and disabilities. They are still victims of a mistake made by grown ups so many years ago.
There used to be a nuclear power plant just on the other side of the water, 20 km from Copenhagen where I live, in Sweden. The fear in the 70s was real that something like Chernobyl could happen right here in our backyard and most of Denmark (and I assume Norway and Sweden as well?) breathed a sigh of relieve when it was decommissioned. The last reactor was shut down in 2005.
Through the 50s and 60s there was a careful optimism about nuclear power, we had Niels Bohr after all and could you imagine a power source with almost no pollution, cheap and available for all? But through the 70s and 80s the dangers and thus the resistance became quite clear. Engineers and scientists spent days and weeks either speaking for or against it at meetings and assemblies but in 1985 the resistance won and it was passed by law that Denmark would not engage in nuclear power. And in 1986 the catastrophe in Chernobyl happened.
We do not have earth quakes around here as they do in Japan and I suppose that we are pretty uptight about security but accidents happen. I know that I for one could never feel safe with a power plant in my backyard even if it is very green energy. Not after Chernobyl and Fukushima.
Also check out the posts from the rest of the BBRBF Book Club and see how they liked the book and next months book is The Secret history of Wonder Woman. If you want to be friends on Goodreads feel free to add me, I accept everyone 🙂