The Invisibles

A gripping novel about idealism and disillusionment during the Soviet era and the Chernobyl disaster

For young Dani, life in a remote Ukrainian village during the Soviet era is boring and spartan. But then a new boy joins his class at school: Pavel. He is charismatic and incredibly well-read, a staunch believer in communism with a keen sense of justice.

Fiction
Original title
De onzichtbaren
Author
Frank Nellen

From the moment he arrives, Dani and his classmates are utterly captivated by Pavel. He wears an eyepatch – sparking the wildest rumours – and is full of incredible stories from all the books he has read. Later, Pavel moves to Kiev to go to university and launch his career. Dani stays in his hometown and gets a mind-numbing job at the local lamp factory, which is run with the tragicomic inefficiency typical of the Soviet economy.

The village’s sedate routine abruptly changes when they learn that ‘a serious natural disaster’ has occurred – a euphemism for the nuclear catastrophe in Chernobyl – and that a ‘temporary evacuation’ is necessary. The villagers scatter all over Ukraine – most of them will never see their homes or one another again. Dani leaves for Kiev, where he takes a job as a dish-washer in a hotel.

Meanwhile, Pavel joins the so-called ‘liquidators’, the crews cleaning up the contaminated zone. The horrors he sees make him lose his faith in communism. In 1989, Dani watches Pavel give an impassioned anti-communist speech at the University of Kiev that ends up sparking a riot. Later, when he hears Pavel tell stories on the radio about ordinary Ukrainians who became victims of the system, Dani recalls the way Pavel used to wax lyrical about communism. What has happened to Pavel – what’s left of his dreams?

A hallucinatory search takes Dani to ‘the zone’, the hermetically sealed area surrounding the Chernobyl nuclear plant where Pavel now lives a hermetic existence. Here, he broadcasts his stories on the radio in an effort to awaken his compatriots – stories of the countless victims of communism, the ‘invisibles’. In The Invisibles, Nellen shows a world in which the individual is subordinate to a dictatorial system, but where stories become a powerful weapon and a source of comfort. Like his character Pavel, Frank Nellen is a great storyteller who vividly evokes an entire universe.

Publishing details
De onzichtbaren (2023)
256 pages
68,000 words
10,000 copies sold
Sample translation available

Publisher
Hollands Diep
Elco Lenstra
elco.lenstra@hollandsdiep.nl

Rights
Daan van Straten
daan.vanstraten@overamstel.com

Sample Translation

In the lively, tragicomic The Invisibles, Frank Nellen writes compellingly and authoritatively about the Soviet era in a village near Chernobyl (…) In Pavel, Nellen has created a genuinely tragic hero.

Trouw

A convincing, empathetic coming-of-age story set in Ukraine. The story is firmly anchored in the here-and-now.’

de Volkskrant

With his Ukrainian Soviet novel The Invisibles, Frank Nellen shows he is right up there with the great storytellers from that part of the world.

Het Parool
Frank Nellen
Frank Nellen (b. 1982) is a lawyer and economist who works as a university lecturer and tax adviser.
Part ofFiction
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