Date Completed: 7/12/2016
This is an absolute whirlwind of a book! Ivan starts off narrating his rather abject lifestyle in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children, where he has spent the entirety of his short life. Ivan has only one arm and three nubs, and he lives among many other children with much more difficult conditions, many of whom are dying from one thing or another. Being surrounded by dying people all the time, Ivan has developed a very sarcastic-bordering-on-asshole way of talking with everyone else there, but more often than talking he simply fakes comas while in the presence of others. This book had me laughing out loud at every turn, whether from shock or from feeling overwhelmingly appalled at everything that was coming out of Ivan’s mouth.
“There were several moments when my head already decided to give up. But then my mother would show up for a moment to tell me stories of pregnant women lifting cars up off their trapped babies, which inspired me to summon the pissed-off pregnant mother inside of me, who I truly believe lives in all of us.”
Although I found myself growing disinterested and disgusted by Ivan’s cyclical reviews of the other children and his own habits by the end of the first part of the book, the second part of the book quickly turned my mind around and renewed my interest in the characters. In fact, he introduction of Polina into the story proved the best possible decision for Stambach. Polina is everything Ivan lacks in the story, and Ivan’s emotions towards her are what make this story so compelling in the end. My roommate, who I was reading this book aloud to, was even moved to the verge of tears, or at least little whiny sad noises. Ivan was brilliant because at first I hated him and then I loved him so deeply.
“How do you even start a book you know is going to be your last?”
It was great fun to read about what little there was about Belarusian culture. The interjections of Russian and Belarusian words and phrases were also quite enjoyable. I can’t say I’ve ever read a book about a small hidden children’s hospital in Belarus, fictional or not, and this book took me for a wild ride that I thoroughly enjoyed. I recommend reading it as soon as it’s published in August, as long as you can stomach a little blood and guts.
This is to be Scott Stambach’s first novel, although he’s been published in several literary journals. You can find his website here. His books will never be the norm, and for that I will keep him in my radar as an author to read again in the future.
I picked up this ARC from my local bookstore Malaprop’s, which exchanges ARC’s free of charge.