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The Death of Ivan Ilych Paperback – August 3, 2006

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. In the lovely, low tones of a fine storyteller, Oliver Fox Davies guides us through the stages of Tolstoy's mini masterpiece. Davies's skill with inflection, even within words, heightens the social satire of the early section and shifts with Ilyich's slide into ever increasing pain and irritability. With the terror and anguish of approaching death, his voice grows convincingly hoarse. Until his illness, Ivan Ilyich had never reflected on his life. But he slowly comes to see his life as a terrible, huge deception which had hidden life and death. As he lays dying, his lifelong friends think of the promotions that may come their way, and his wife began to wish he would die, but she didn't want him to die because then his salary would cease. He has always avoided human connection, but through the tender ministrations of a peasant he comes to recognize the mesh of falsity in which he's lived. Written more than a century ago, Tolstoy's work still retains the power of a contemporary novel. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Novella by Leo Tolstoy, published in Russian as Smert Ivana Ilycha in 1886, considered a masterpiece of psychological realism. (The name Ilich is also transliterated Ilitch, Ilych, or Ilyich.) Ivan Ilich's crisis is remarkably similar to that of Tolstoy himself as described in A Confession (1882). The first section of the story portrays Ivan Ilich's colleagues and family after he has died, as they reflect on the significance of his death for their careers and fortunes. In the second section, Tolstoy reveals the life of the man whose death seems so trivial: "Ivan Ilich's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible." The perfect bureaucrat, Ivan Ilich treasures his orderly domestic and official routine. Diagnosed with an incurable illness, he at first denies the truth, but influenced by the simple acceptance of his servant Gerasim, Ivan Ilich comes to embrace the boy's belief that death is natural and not shameful. He comforts himself with happy memories of childhood and gradually realizes that he has ignored all his inner yearnings as he tried to do what was expected of him. By the story's end he is at peace. -- The Merriam-Webster Encylopedia of Literature --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 86 pages
  • Publisher: Waking Lion Press (August 3, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1600964338
  • ISBN-13: 978-1600964336
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.2 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (297 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,582,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) wrote two of the great novels of the nineteenth century, War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

133 of 139 people found the following review helpful By Ilana Teitelbaum on February 15, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
There are so many levels upon which this story can be read, yet they are woven so inextricably into this masterpiece that the complexity is staggering. The premise sounds simple: a man who is about to die realizes he has never fully lived. We've all heard this before--in fact, Hollywood likes to drum such messages into our heads on a regular basis. But rarely, if ever, is it portrayed with the exquisite mastery which Tolstoy employed upon writing "The Death of Ivan Ilyich".
Paradoxically, this story is just as much about the life of Ivan Ilyich as it is about his death. This is in order to fully appreciate who he is and the man he has made of himself before disaster strikes. It is also to highlight both the tragic deterioration of his life and the gradual enlightenment of his inmost soul.
In portraying Ivan Ilyich's character, Tolstoy's subtle but inexorable condemnation is devastating. Not a detail is gratuitous: every point further serves to illustrate what is essentially a life without ideals and without purpose. Yet the author does not beat us over the head with this, rather than allowing the clear and unembellished facts to speak for themselves. And the way Tolstoy knew exactly which facts to accentuate creates a psychological depth which is unparalleled.
Many seem to be under the impression that Ivan Ilyich was some sort of villain, and that the story is a warning against corruption and bad behavior. My personal view is that Ivan Ilyich is no worse--although no better--than many people. Perhaps he is of a slightly lesser moral calibre than most, but that does not make him completely evil. To believe that he is evil is to miss the whole point, for this story was meant to be universal, to depict a reality which exists for us all.
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132 of 139 people found the following review helpful By A customer on October 31, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback Verified Purchase
I am so sorry only 9 other people have reviewed this book for Amazon. If it were up to me, I'd place a copy in every hotel and motel room in America, right next to Gideon. I realize that some books just hit us the right way at certain times in our lives, and I once had a hard time trying to persuade 18- and 19-year-olds to appreciate this one. But when I was around 30, I read the title novella, and it changed my life by changing my outlook on life and enabling me to make some decisions I'd never have taken seriously if I hadn't read it.
But I don't want to scare you off. Tolstoy is perfectly accessible, the title character's dilemma is heartrending (the title gives you a clue), the characters universal, and the effect upon closing the cover after the last page indelible. If one person reads it after reading these 10 reviews, I'll be happy.
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65 of 66 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nadja on January 18, 2007
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This book changed my life. No kidding. After reading it, I realized I was trapped in a loveless marriage, slave to a meaningless job, and listing towards a dark oblivion. In other words, I was your average middle-class, middle-aged married white guy. This book is a terrifying wake-up call to such guys--and I suppose to their female counterparts--to the life-not-well-lived, alas, the path most-taken.

The premise is simple. A solid career guy with all the trappings of `success'--secure job, nice house, presentable wife--lifts his arm one day and feels something go `twang' inside him. No big deal, he thinks. Probably tweaked a muscle or something. Except the little pain doesn't go away. Its not ever going away. It's a message--a message of mortality. The Grim Reaper is at the door. Time's up.

Now this is bad enough news, for sure. But that's only the beginning of this novel of existential horror. For as our hero lies a-dying he sees the life around him--the carefully tended garden of his years--as if for the first time. That is, he sees how bitter, fraudulent, and full of decay and vermin it truly is. From his fair-weather friends and business associates to his vain and self-centered wife who fritters about the inconvenience attendant upon her husband's impending death as if it were a personal affront and the greatest of injustices--to her, *The Death of Ivan Ilych* offers a bedside view of the cruel absurdity of the inhuman comedy. For as the protagonist lies suffering on his deathbed and reviews his life and how it has--and hasn't--added up, he endures a torment that is almost Christ-like in its intensity and resulting in a revelation as immense in its profundity. But whether one of heaven or hell, truth or pacifying illusion is up to each reader to decide.
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63 of 68 people found the following review helpful By Alvaro Lewis on September 20, 2002
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Tolstoy's novella makes rewarding and unsettling reading. Surely, I can think of no novel that treats dying as boldly. Death is a fact. In this story Ivan Ilyich's life and death are plainly represented in a fashion that remarkably resembles the times I have been aware of other, near people dying. What the novel puts on display in so satisfying and disconcerting a fashion is the remarkable inability or reluctance of most people (I ashamedly include myself in this group) to take part in the life of a person who is inevitably and rather immediately dying. Only one character in the novel has the goodness, humility and patience to care for a dying man, the rest scurry about and take care of their anticipated needs in the face of losing a loved one.
I find that I read this book again every year and that it remains such a fine portrait of a bureaucrat whose family life does not entirely satisfy him and whose pursuit of a more meaningful life fails to cease even in sickness, when he understands that his mortality is soon to be demonstrated. There are few works of this nature that I can set in the company of this short novel. Despite many readings, I feel I still don't entirely understand it, but later in life I imagine I will do better. This book is so excellent and the edition here lends itself to portable and pleasant reading.
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