The Inspiration for
The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
Much like Ivan, the exact birthday of The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko is debatable. The only thing I know for sure is that sometime in the summer of 2007, I accidentally stumbled onto a documentary called Chernobyl Heart. It was a low budget, award-winning, Irish film that documented the realities inside of some of the dreariest hospitals in Eastern Europe where victims of the infamous nuclear explosion were hidden from the world. By the end, my eyes were soaked and I was ready to step into the ring and go twelve rounds with ghost of Vladimir Lenin.
Chernobyl Heart was almost unbearable to watch for countless reasons. But, one piece stood out, leaving me feeling particularly haunted. It was the resolute fact that even with the acute public interest, these kids had no voice. Yes, they got some camera time on an internationally distributed documentary. Yes, they got to mumble a few words into those cameras in exchange for their fifteen minutes. But, it wasn’t enough. There was too much pain there, too much history, too much hush-hush. So I thought about what’d be like to give one of these kids a voice. And out of that thought experiment, Ivan was born in short story form.
I was lucky enough that a superhero literary named Victoria Sanders took the time to read it and suggest that it should probably be a novel. And unpublished writers take the advice of agents who give them any attention—so I began adapting Ivan’s story into a novel.
As I began to write I started to realize that something poignant and important was happening. That this story was becoming a potent metaphor for how all of us strive for love and connection. How most of us carry in our pockets these self-images that are deformed, or broken, or terrified, or somehow unworthy of human connection. And hopefully it’s out birthright that we should all realize that all this is simply silly chatter of the mind. That we are all deserve love in the deepest sense. This is what Ivan’s story is about.