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The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories Hardcover – Deckle Edge, November 17, 2009
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Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2009: To anyone for whom Leo Tolstoy's masterpieces War and Peace and Anna Karenina have stood as giants too daunting to scale, and equally to the many readers who have devoured those novels and are hungry for more, we offer The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories. Newly translated by the team of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who have enlivened the Russian classics for a new generation, this selection of 11 of his finest stories reveals a Tolstoy of many sides and unsurpassed storytelling talents. Along with smaller gems like "Alyosha the Pot," the collection features a handful of thrilling longer tales that each carry the power of a novel: the terrifying murderer's confession of "The Kreuzer Sonata," the breathlessly dramatic path of a single crime through dozens of lives in "The Forged Coupon," and the haunting account of the isolation of mortality in the legendary title story. Most revelatory of all for a modern reader is the final novella, and Tolstoy's final work, "Hadji Murat," the disturbingly contemporary story of a fiercely honorable Chechen warrior caught between local rivalries and the ambivalent reach of a decadent empire. --Tom Nissley
“Excellent. . . . The duo has managed to convey the rather simple elegance of Tolstoy’s prose.” —The New Criterion
“[Tolstoy’s] late style is leaner, his forms more spare, but this is also the economy of achieved mastery. He does more with less, and the Tolstoyan sounds, instantly recognizable, are still there. . . . [Pevear and Volokhonsky’s] new version is more flexible, individuated, immediate.” —The Nation
“The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories is a great collection well translated. As a lover of Tolstoy’s work, one couldn’t ask for more, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.” —André Alexis, The Globe and Mail --This text refers to the Digital edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
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. This is obvious from the way the story begins, with Ivan Ilyich's friends' and relatives' reactions to his death. Like him, they see death as something that can never happen to them, and like him they lead lives which are shallow and superficial in an attempt to avoid the unpleasant realities of life. By the time he dies, Ivan Ilyich has risen above these people by at last coming to the realization of the worthlessness of his life. This has elevated him above the common man, who avoids the reality of death and the effort it takes to make life worthwhile. In Tolstoy's own words, "Ivan Ilyich's life had been...most ordinary and therefore most terrible."
Therein lies the impact of this story: Ivan Ilyich is Everyman, and the message he represents is applicable at every moment in our lives.
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.
Said to be the result of Tolstoy's own middle-aged spiritual crisis, *The Death of Ivan Ilych* manages to say in a scant 100 pages what most novels don't begin to say in 500. Timeless and archetypal, this novel reads with the power of a myth--a cautionary myth to wake up this very moment and begin to live an authentic life before it's too late.
Because at any moment, it may suddenly be too late.
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.
If you're like me, and don't have the time to slog through "War and Peace" but are interested in Tolstoy, try this book. It's outstanding.