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The Death of Ivan Ilyich Hardcover – April 25, 2011

4.4 out of 5 stars 350 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Nikolai Tolstoy is a highly recognized and acclaimed historian and biographer. He was the sole beneficiary of his stepfather's will and is one of the trustees of O'Brian's estate.

Review

Enough of these homegrown comedies of manners. There aren't many jokes in this relentless novella about a cold, calculating, materialistic minor member of the St Petersburg judiciary, whose only ambition is to keep up with the Ivanovs. Until, that is, he falls ill with a mysterious terminal disease that opens his eyes to the shallowness of his friends, his family and, most of all, himself. Tolstoy's prose is majestic, his pace measured, his characters unflinchingly true to life, his message bleak. If you've never read any Tolstoy, best not start with this one - you might stop yourself before you get round to Anna Karenina --The Guardian - Sue Arnold --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 80 pages
  • Publisher: White Crow Books (April 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1907661638
  • ISBN-13: 978-1907661631
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.3 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (350 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #505,810 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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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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