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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pevear and Volokhonsky's Marvelous New Translation Captures the Spiritual Beauty of Tolstoy's Short Fiction
Although Leo Tolstoy is primarily known for writing the juggernaut masterpieces Anna Karenina and War and Peace, readers venturing into the less formidable remainder of his canon will find within them the same incisive narrative clarity, that overarching symphonic structure, and those profound eternal questions that continue to immortalize him nearly a century after his...
Published on December 17, 2009 by The Cultural Observer

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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars For those who haven't read War and Peace
a fine selection of some of Tolstoy's best stories which everyone will want to read after reading Henri Troyat's biography of Tolstoy.
Published 28 days ago by Joyce Lawrence


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40 of 43 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pevear and Volokhonsky's Marvelous New Translation Captures the Spiritual Beauty of Tolstoy's Short Fiction, December 17, 2009
Although Leo Tolstoy is primarily known for writing the juggernaut masterpieces Anna Karenina and War and Peace, readers venturing into the less formidable remainder of his canon will find within them the same incisive narrative clarity, that overarching symphonic structure, and those profound eternal questions that continue to immortalize him nearly a century after his death. His shorter fiction, while little resembling precise Chekhovian gems or pithy O. Henry exercises, encompasses a macrocosm of immense character and depth, highlighting more pronouncedly his work's finest qualities pared down to concision.

While the market is abundant with myriad editions of Tolstoy's stories, this new volume of his late fiction is particularly remarkable for the collaboration of translators Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, both of whom have rendered critically acclaimed translations of great Russian classics. Seasoned readers of Dostoevsky will invariably direct neophytes to their landmark The Brothers Karamazov, considered today as definitive for mirroring the author's ironic humor, tortured spirituality, and most importantly, his language's cadence and tonality. At the turn of the millennium, the couple released their Anna Karenina, which later garnered international attention upon Oprah's promotion of the title in her book club. Two years ago, Pevear and Volokhonsky also published their hefty, beautiful version of War and Peace, enthralling readers of serious literature and becoming the subject of a four-week online discussion presided by the New York Times.

The eleven stories in this volume, all but one of which was written after Anna Karenina, signify a distinct change in artistic character--a spiritual crisis engendered when the author converted to Christianity--from Tolstoy's earlier novels. Pevear notes in his introduction that, "Here the conflicting claims of art and moral judgment strike a very difficult balance, and its precariousness is strongly felt." Although the polarities between the classes and the idyllic depictions of Russian life still command a presence in these stories, central to them now is the "confrontation with the mystery of death," which, though initially introduced through Anna Karenina's progressively "tragic atmosphere," emerges here as an unmistakably crucial motif.

For instance, in the titular novella, "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," Tolstoy concerns us with the presently deceased Ivan Ilyich, a judge whose life "was most simple and ordinary and most terrible." Though commencing as a focused reflection on the hero's death, the story gradually progresses as an examination of Ivan's life, tracing his ascent through the social hierarchy until a seemingly arbitrary injury begins to discomfit him. Upon realizing that he faces a terminal condition, his psyche similarly deteriorates, causing him to lash on his family until he alienates all but Gerasim, a servant boy, whose compassion moves him to question the true meaning of life.

With the dark and harrowing "The Kreutzer Sonata," Tolstoy tells a disturbing tale regarding the moral nature of love, sex, and seduction channeled through the story's mad narrator, Pozdnyshev. He tells us that, before marriage, he lived "in depravity," which he envisions more as a self-deprecating act of abstinence. After marrying his wife, both alternate between periods of passionate love and violent altercations. During the latter years of their union, she takes a liking to a dashing violinist, who invites her to participate in a duet by playing Beethoven's Kreutzer Sonata. The music's tension rouses a change in Pozdnyshev, who finds that it "affects one fearfully...in a provoking way." Returning later from a foreign trip, he comes home to find them together, and, in a fit of anger, murders his wife.

In "Master and Man," one of the author's most touchingly composed stories, a wealthy merchant, Vassily Andreich, and his muzhik companion, Nikita, are pitted against a treacherous whiteout that strands them during their circuitous wanderings towards another town. As master and man are confronted with the prospects of perishing in the cold, Vassily ruminates about the value of his societal contributions while regarding the unenterprising muzhiks as unworthy of grace; Nikita, on the other hand, ponders about his "ceaseless servitude" and how death might affect his place in society. As the snowstorm continues to batter them, Vassily is seized with a rapturous vision, and undergoes a startling transformation of character right before he expires.

While many of these display the fine-tuned prose of Tolstoy's maturity, the most unconventional hero of his authorship--and perhaps the finest creation of his pen--revolves not around a Russian compatriot wrestling with his tormented self, but rather, a Muslim warrior who, although by no means peaceable, stands as an essay on the art of the hero. "Hadji Murat," an artfully symmetrical creation that begins and ends with the scrutiny of a twig, tells a dramatically arresting tale of heroism about its eponymous Chechen rebel commander, who allies with the Russians after a falling-out with his imam.

Unlike the majority of Tolstoy's creations, many of who are deeply flawed and resignedly human, Hadji Murat is an epic hero streaked with uncommonly divine qualities--his daring, his warrior-like dexterity, his uncanny leadership, his heroic ethos, his wise understanding of reality, and his resignation of fate to God--that mark a departure from the author's conventional realization of character. Although death inevitably constitutes his destiny, he sees it not as an object of mystery, but instead for what it merely is--a physical detachment from the earthly realm. This apotheosis in character has never been more strongly defined in Tolstoy's oeuvre, and if it were to stand as the sole exponent of his art, it would still seal his reputation as one of literature's finest craftsmen.

Indeed, throughout this collection, life and death's many mysteries pose certain powerful questions that reflect the important ruminations of Tolstoy's art. As with "The Kreutzer Sonata," stories like "The Devil" and "Father Sergius" challenge us to think about the moral gravity of sex, lust, and love and the sometimes-drastic sacrifices we must make in order to achieve inner peace and happiness. Another story, an eccentric parable entitled "The Forged Coupon," recalls the corruption that laces an entire community when a young man, in desperation for money, dishonestly alters a coupon's face value. This bizarre ordeal is ironically settled only when one of the indicted attacks a old woman whose final mournful, yet spiritually poignant words engender a change of heart. And in a stroke that captures the author's nihilistic tendencies, "The Diary of a Madman" chronicles one man's descent into madness, his unwillingness to come to terms with spirituality, and a final association with a faith of his own invention that closely mimics Tolstoy's version of Christianity.

If Tolstoy's shorter fiction hardly approaches the impressive breadth he invested in his largest masterpieces, he manages to award his characters with a sense of spiritual destiny, with voices wrestling with truth, life, God, and morality. Though many of these morose creatures often face an inevitable end, they also dawn on the idea that happiness and truth are unattainable in this world. Rather, these characters come to the transcendent realization that redemption, if only by acknowledging the universal need for morality and truth, is possible for even the most tormented and flawed of us.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Morality of Literature, July 20, 2010
By 
Gridley (asheville, north carolina USA) - See all my reviews
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I've previously posted on one long piece in this book - Hadji Murat - on my blog, Gridley Fires The remainder of this book is a collection of short stories selected by the book's translators, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, no doubt to show off the diversity in Tolstoy's story structure and subject matter. But in doing this, they've perhaps inadvertently selected stories that, except for a pair, depict Tolstoy's project of using story to demonstrate his views on morality and ethics.

Some of his moral depictions here (and almost all literature trifles with ethical dilemmas of the author's times, to one degree or another) are as subtly put as those modern by a hundred years. On the other hand, others are actually quite ham-handed. But more on this subject below.

The translators made these stories entertaining - not only by showing us the more timeless aspects of Tolstoy's literary thinking - but in herding them ever so gracefully into modern times via a more contemporary language that refuses to betray Tolstoy and the language of that time. As I've implied previously, these two translators are likely without peer in doing so.

Possibly since I'm a blue collar dude by sensibility, my favorite story (besides Hadji Murat) is Master and Man, in which a man of means, Vassily Andreich and a servant, Nikita, an older muzhik, or peasant, take off on a winter trip to another town with a snowstorm looming. The story is a masterwork of the dynamics between the two men, how they both complement one another and manage inherent class conflicts. As well, it depicts as deftly as any modern work might the ways in which Nikita belongs to nature, in which he understands, despite his usual drunken state, how to navigate nature in such times and how to yield to it in order to survive. Vassily, on the other hand, is headstrong to a fault, which proves his undoing in this Jack London-style story of man versus the elements.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Death of Ivan Illyich and Other Stories, March 30, 2010
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Tolstoy's stories are classics, beautifully written and engaging. This collection is a classic. Whether you agree with the later
Tolstoy who could be somewhat rigid in his religiosity, his writing nevertheless is first rate.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A monumental tome of Tolstoy stories you probably haven't heard of., September 3, 2011
This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Tolstoy tried during the end of his life to simplify his writing from the gargantuan War and Peace to something that reflected his changing views on life and art. This change, a separate issue in itself, basically resulted in Tolstoy refocusing on more humanistic themes later in his life and simplifying his narratives to make them more powerful. After all the stylistic changes Tolstoy made, we get the results distilled into this book's short stories, many of which were made with this more consciously refined style in mind.

And it's a marked evolution. Every story thoroughly explores a deliberately focused theme through little more than simple narrative. Tolstoy, moralist that he is, always builds his characters and events around the most basic literary elements of humanity (dishonesty, loyalty, death), and his characters are usually guinea pigs created to be tested objectively in these situations, something like Chekhov but with a clearer message. Clear, lucid narrative and powerful themes make stories that are at least fascinating and, at best, enlightening. I really can't begin to do justice to his stories in a measly review because all the proof is in the reading.

Basically, if your life doesn't allow you the time to make the long-term commitment to War and Peace, satisfy yourself with these overlooked gems that the translators Pevear and Volokhonsky rightly recognized as needing a fresh translation for the new millennium. Get the hardcover edition because, if you're like me, you'll need something to hold up during a few re-readings of the best stories, and besides the binding obviously being solid, the texturing of the pages and cover and the size of the text raise it a cut above the average hardback edition. It's very pleasant just to hold, and besides, a recent translation of this quality deserves money to support more of the same great translations. Buy it! And thank the literature gods for Pevear and Volokhonsky reviving so many classics for our enjoyment.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Arguably some of the greatest stories ever put down on paper., July 14, 2013
By 
simon belmont (louisville, kentucky) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
Many people agree that The Beatles are the best band of all time (I'm actually not of this camp, but let's forget that for the sake of argument). However, imagine if The Beatles had a reputation as unlistenable, opaque, and virtually impenetrable. The first time you heard some actual songs by them, you'd be surprised at how easy it is to listen to them; the melodies are beautiful yet catchy, the instrumental parts well-structured and well-played.

This is the big surprise for me with Tolstoy. I've never come across an author, band, artist, etc. whose reputation is so contrary to their actual nature. Starting in childhood, we're told that War and Peace is an inaccessible tome of a novel. Tolstoy's prose is famously thought to be cold, formal, and difficult to get through.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Tolstoy's writing is beautifully flowing and sometimes even playful; his characters are well thought-out and sympathetic; the narrative motion of his stories is perfectly paced. This is not just true of this translation of some of his short stories, although Pevear and Volokhonsky seem particularly adept at honoring Tolstoy's gift with language.

At the danger of sounding fanatical, these stories are perfect. Literally nothing about them could be changed for the better. The volume begins with a fragment, Diary of a Madman, which discusses a religious man's breakdown. Parts of the story are even reminiscent of Sartre's Nausea, a book that came several decades later. There are two stories in the book that involve a realistic depiction of war: A Prisoner of the Caucuses and the novella Hadji Murad. I don't usually enjoy war writing, but Tolstoy has such a love for his characters, such a brutally honest and yet somehow optimistic view of human conflict, that these stories seem less about the actual logistics of war and more about man's contradictory disposition to violence.

The jewel of this book is the title story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich. I've recommended this story (among many others by Tolstoy) to several friends, and I've yet to find anyone who isn't in some way moved by it. The story involves a man who, at the end of his life, begins to question the choices he's made and how he's lived. Again, Tolstoy's compassion paints his characters as flawed but well-intentioned. If you have any doubts about this book, I'd recommend first reading The Death of Ivan Ilyich (even if it's an older translation -- some of these are even available online for free). The translation by Pevear and Volokhonsky is definitely superior, but the story is so strong that its genius is readily seen even in the older, stodgier translations.

Another thing that surprised me was the modern feel of Tolstoy's stories. These stories would be right at home in the 20th century literary canon -- sometimes it's even a shock when a character pulls up in a troika. You find yourself saying, "Oh, right -- this takes place in the 1800s." Because Tolstoy deals in morals and characters' subtle motivations, the writing is truly timeless.

Of course, once you read these stories, I'd recommend moving on to either Anna Karenina or War and Peace. Pevear and Volokhonsky have superb translations of both. And, when you come to the end of War and Peace, you'll have the same epiphany reached by most people who've read it: that this book, forever depicted as a cold, stern, tome, has some of the most beautifully depicted characters, the most involving and page-turning narratives, and the most memorable passages of any book you've ever read.

***One quick note: Many of the 1-star and 2-star reviews for this book claim it's full of errors and typos. However, if you look closely, you'll see that these reviews are actually for other Tolstoy compilations (which are also named for The Death of Ivan Ilyich), not for the P&V translation. For some reason Amazon lumps all these reviews together even though the books are vastly different. It's worth noting that, since Tolstoy's work is in the public domain, there are a lot of very shoddily put-together books of his stories.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars This is NOT the kindle ed., February 16, 2010
By 
Steven Broyde (Burlington, CT USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Please note:The Richard Pevear (Translator), Larissa Volokhonsky (Translator) edition reviewed here is not the $1.00 Kindle edition. So if you want this translation, do not get the Kindle version.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolstoy's Best!, March 7, 2013
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
This book is exquisitely grounded in reality--beginning with a funeral. But it also makes the strangest and most terrifying part of life vividly real. How do we move from this life to the next? Why do we suffer? What matters in this life? Is there justice in this world? in the next? Reading Ivan Ilyich helped me to find answers to all these questions.
And the story itself is delightful to read.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Few writers dare to say these things, July 8, 2013
By 
Guillermo Maynez (Mexico, Distrito Federal Mexico) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
The tale that gives the title to this volume, and the two others I will review here, were written when Tolstoy was already an old man, and they reflect his successive spiritual and religious crises, his profound doubts and obsessions about Good and Evil, and about life and how it should be lived. "The Death of Ivan Ilyich" is a demolishing tale, overwhelming, without any concessions, and with a crudity and frankness hard to find in other stories. It begins with the main character's funeral and the indifference his family and friends feel, not only toward his particular death, but to death in general. It is impossible not to see oneself in one of the many funerals one eventually attends to, and not to imagine one's own funeral and what people will say. Then the tale goes back to depict Ivan's life, a seemingly perfect one but in fact empty and pointless. One day, Ivan has a common home accident which apparently lacks importance but which in fact causes a problem that slowly kills him. Tolstoy reveals, painfully and in detail, the long process which leads Ivan to death, as well as his bitter reflections about his life in particular, and about life and death in general. As other reviewers have pointed out, Hollywood and cheap literature of all sorts constantly send the same message, but usually in a very corny and sentimental way. This is not the case here: the emptiness of most lives, possibly including our own, is analyzed here in excruciating realism, and in fact no horror story could ever be more horrible and frightening than this one.

"Father Sergio" tells the story of a young, tall and handsome guy: the perfect son, the perfect student, the perfect courtesan. He, in fact, gets obsessed with being perfect in everything he does and, of course, has a perfect career in the military and obtains the love of just the perfect girl. He seems destined to be the Czar's Chief of Guards. Only, at some point a cruel disappointment makes him become a monk. Monastery life bores him to death, but as is his custom, he tries hard to be the best at it, which in turn wins him his companions' antipathy. That, coupled with very serious doubts about Faith, impels him to go hermit in a forest. Father Sergio becomes famous, mainly through the story of a frivolous woman who bets she can seduce him, only to be turned into a nun by the brutal and febrile episode, not to be missed. Soon a community of monks gather around him, who make money out of his fame, until one day another shattering experience forces him once more to change his life. Certainly not a tale for the faint of heart.

"After the ball", very brief, shows us an old man, a ne'er do well, who during a conversation recounts an episode of his youth, back when life was smiling at him, and when in the course of an elegant ball he falls in love with a girl. He gets to dance with her and to see her dance with her distinguished General of a father. Overflown with love and illusions, he returns to his quarter but, unable to sleep, goes out for a walk until he passes by his beloved's house, where he is witness to a scene that changes his life for ever.

Three literary tonalities, three different ways to illuminate and obsessively analyze the same anxieties and fixations, from different points of view, each one taken to its full consequence: literary genius.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A review on the quality of this edition, June 13, 2011
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This is not a review on the content of this book (which, by the way, is fantastic, 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' being the second greatest work of nineteenth century fiction behind only 'Anna Karenin'), but rather a review of the quality of this hardback edition.

The jacket cover is appropriate. Simplistic Beauty. The spine is also quite plain, yet striking.

A bright red, cloth wrapped hardback can always be appreciated. The quality of the wrap is nice, as is that of the cloth. Gold text on the cloth spine completes the simple ensemble.

The selection of stories accompanying 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' is a good one and the translations are perhaps the best I've ever read (Pevear & Volokhonsky).

Each story is titled on a new page in a gorgeous cursive type. The title of the story is present in the top-left corner of the left pages, with page number in the top-right corner of the right pages.

Paper quality is above average, yet not excellent.

Where this edition falls short for me, is it's inclusion of a feature apparently growing in popularity. That of the uneven and jagged pages, turning the side opposite the spine into a mess of easy-to-damage, uneven pages. I trust you know what I am talking about. A large percentage of the hardback novels i have bought recently have had this feature. I warn you all as I wish I was warned.

Another shortcoming: The is no ribbon in the book's spine. I always appreciated a page-mark ribbon on a hardback edition of a book.

Overall, a good hardback edition carried along by the great translations by Pevear & Volokhonsky. If you like jagged pages for your novel, you will adore this edition.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Tolstoy's "TheDeath of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories" a wothwhile collection, June 8, 2013
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
An important selection of Tolstoy's later writing As with their work on other Russian novels and short story collections, Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky provide excellent translations. As a long time admirer of Russian literature this is a worthy addition to my library. For people looking for earlier prose works by Tolstoy (before his spiritual quest fully developed), they would be better advised to search for a collection that encompasses a greater breadth of his short fiction.
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The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics)
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories (Vintage Classics) by Leo Tolstoy (Paperback - October 5, 2010)
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