The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

Another one off the dusty bookshelves.  Had I known what genius lay inside, it would not have remained unread.  The genius of Tolstoy and his reputation are well deserved and War and Peace will find its place on my next list.

Opening with Ivan’s death, The Death of Ivan Ilych then flashes back to the young Ivan, his career, marriage, illness and eventual death.  Tolstoy unravels this seemingly morbid tale with fine insight into the inner thoughts of a man facing death juxtaposed with the self-centered thoughts of his family and friends as they view from the periphery.

The novel’s namesake, Ivan, is a self absorbed man who is proud of his career and comfortable lifestyle.  His impending death angers and scares him and leads him to reflect on his life asking, “Had I lived as I ought?”.  Indeed, he did not.

The butler’s assistant, Gerasim becomes nurse to Ivan and his care and compassion open the eyes of a dying man.  To ease Ivan’s severe pain, he holds his legs on his shoulders for hours at a time with no complaint.  He is the only person that does not shrink from the dying man and his view of death as a natural course of life endear him to Ivan.  He is the man unnoticed by most, but the wisest and my personal favorite.

Ivan’s wife, Praskovya is not heartbroken over her husband’s fatal illness.  Perhaps her husband’s egocentricities have taken their toll or his indifference for their children who died over the years have affected her, but she is not losing much sleep.  Feigning concern for her husband around others infuriates him and when the end finally arrives, her main concern is that of her husband’s pension and how to get the most from it.  Not a particularly warm woman.

How I would love to sit down with the genius of Tolstoy and chat about his interesting life.  Perhaps we could stroll outdoors and he could share with me his keen writing skills.  Now I have the answer to that question of what famous person I’d most like to meet and the answer is Mr. Tolstoy.

My rating for The Death of Ivan Ilych  is a 10 out of 10.

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Next up, Willa Cather’s  O Pioneers!


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