December 2005, Polina has just dies. But let’s begin at the beginning. Ivan Isaenko has always lived in the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children somewhere in Belarus, an institution where children like him are kept away, victims of what happened 1986 in the Chernobyl area. Severely deformed but mentally healthy, he lives a rather lonely life since most of the other patients there either die within a couple of weeks from leukemia or are not able to think and communicate. When a new resident, Polina, arrives, he finds an equal for the first time, but their time is limited since Polina already is fighting death. Nevertheless, the teenagers quickly fall in love, share their memories and get something like togetherness just like any ordinary teenager. But they both know that their love will ultimately find its end.
The novel starts out quite amusingly when we get Ivan to describe the hospital and its inhabitants. In an entertaining and slightly naïve way, he presents his small world secluded from the outer world and reality. The way the inhabitants and the medical staff are portrayed– albeit the seriousness which is not ridiculed at all – makes you smirk and you can easily see them before you. With the arrival of Polina, the mood changes and slowly a much more serious tone is attuned. Now we are hit with the whole gravity of their illnesses and the fact that inevitably, they will have to die rather sooner than later. A happy-end is never an option. Yet, Scott Stambach does not create a completely sad atmosphere, it is more like a melancholic air surrounding the characters and also granting sweet and positive moments.
All in all, a bitter-sweet story with a very serious background. It is heartbreaking, especially since this could be real somewhere in Belarus just this minute.