Book Review: The Death of Ivan Ilych

December 21, 2012 Whitney Review 0 Comments

Book Review: The Death of Ivan IlychThe Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy
Published by Penguin Classics on February 28, 2008
Genres: Classic
Source: Library

Leo Tolstoy combined detailed physical description with perceptive psychological insight to sweep aside the sham of surface appearances and lay bare man's intimate gestures, acts, and thoughts. Murder and sacrifice... greed and devotion... lust and affection... vanity and love -- one by one, in this volume of great stories, Tolstoy dissects the basic drives, emotions, and motives of ordinary people searching for self-knowledge and spiritual perfection. Chekhov said, "Of authors my favorite is Tolstoy." And Turgenev "marveled at the strength of his huge talent... It sends a cold shudder even down my back... He is a master, a master."

This novella begins with Ivan’s colleagues of the court upon hearing of his death and bickering over who will be promoted to his place.  Already, I smelled greed as a prominent theme.  The reader travels to his memorial with said colleagues and finds what appears to be a devoted, distraught widow, Oh how wrong they were…

We drift back to Ivan’s past where he was a spoiled little boy only participating when it would benefit himself.  His marriage (which was really doomed from the start) took a turn upon the birth of their first child and all attention gravitated towards it.  So, we travel through despair and solitude, while putting up an exterior in public looking like Ward and June Cleaver when they really live a life of resentment.

Slowly, we reach the descent of Ivan’s health, from Doctors know nothing, people are lying to me and then acceptance.  There is no love or care in the house and his wife and two children only see him as a nuisance, I began to feel sorry for him.  It was very much how I felt for Ebenezer Scrooge, he was a complete jerk from page one, but as each spirit came to him, you felt more and more empathetic.  This is what I felt for Ivan Ilych.

After my failure with Doctor Zhivago it was suggest (by fellow bloggers) that I ease into Russian Literature with something a little more manageable, a novel that would sprain my wrist.  They were right, I adored this short book.  It invoked so many emotions and with its beautiful, elegant writing it was a book I had difficulty putting down; only too sad when I returned it to the library drop box.


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