The Death of Ivan Ilych And Other Stories

ISBN: 0451528808
ISBN 13: 9780451528803
By: Leo Tolstoy Hugh McLean

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About this book

Hailed as one of the world's supreme masterpieces on the subject of death and dying, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is the story of a worldly careerist, a high court judge who has never given the inevitability of his dying so much as a passing thought. But one day, death announces itself to him, and to his shocked surprise, he is brought face to face with his own mortality. How, Tolstoy asks, does an unreflective man confront his one and only moment of truth?This short novel was an artistic culmination of a profound spiritual crisis in Tolstoy's life, a nine-year period following the publication of Anna Karenina during which he wrote not a word of fiction.A thoroughly absorbing and, at times, terrifying glimpse into the abyss of death, it is also a strong testament to the possibility of finding spiritual salvation.

Reader's Thoughts

Babak Habibi

کلا همیشه از داستان‌های نویسنده‌های روس خوشم میومده مخصوصا تولستوی. چون خیلی با جزئیات همه چیز رو توصیف می‌کنن.این کتاب رو بخاطر فیلم ایرانی "پله آخر" دیدم که آخر فیلمش نوشته بود بعضی از صحنه‌ها اقتباسی از این کتاب بودهشخصیت ایوان ایلیچ آدم قوی هست که دنبال یه سری اهدافش میره و سعی میکنه منطقی با همه چی روبرو شه و خیلی چیزها رو بدستم میاره و درمقطعی از زندگی احسسا خوشبختی هم میکنه ولی بعدش خیلی اتفاقی دچار یه مریضی عجیبی میشه که اونو به مرگ میکشونه و ایوان ایلیچ هر روز درگیر مرگ میشهو بیشتر به چراهای زندگیش فکر میکنهدر کل کتاب خوبی بود راضی کننده بود هم داستان هم نحوه‌ی بیان داستان


I have seldom read literature where authors can get into a person's head quite the way Leo Tolstoy does. I read, "The Death of Ivan Illych" with the ever present sense of dread. Even so, I could not put it down. I am amazed at the kind of detail Tolstoy delivered - even with such a short story.I typically like longer novels but, "The Death of Ivan Illych" took only what was necessary to tell the story.The great, Western American writer, Wallace Stegner, on discussing the craft of writing fiction stated that there are times when a writer may not have sufficient experience surrounding a topic. His advice was that such times call for improvisation.Having read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross' "On Death and Dying,' I was impressed at how closely Tolstoy came to describing what Kübler-Ross discerned from her scientific research.In the second half of the book, I couldn't help but think about my father who died nearly four years ago after his own three year long battle with Stomach Cancer. Ivan Illych conjured up difficult memories for me and, despite the pain, it was a touching reminder which caused me to contemplate the very real possibility that my Dad went through a similar experience as he dealt with his own mortality.It is my understanding that Leo Tolstoy's own end of life story eerily reminisced what he wrote about 23 years before he actually died. I believe Ivan Illych turned out to be a gift - not only to the world - but to Tolstoy himself in that it afforded him an opportunity to explore the phenomena of Human Beings dealing with death. This lends support to my claim that what distinguishes great writers is their ability to tap into Humanity's collective consciousness.In that way, Oscar Wilde had it right in his anti mimesis argument; Life really does imitate art. Moreover, the hallmark of great literature is that it offers something more than high-level entertainment. It dares to explore phenomena that are universal in nature, contextually accurate and even far ahead of the research only because the writers dare to imagine.While it is a given that certain rules regarding mechanics, syntax, timing, voice and other issues of the craft associated with writing are essential, baseline requirements for effective communication, it is the art of applying scrutiny and inventiveness that impels gifted writers to do what they do best; they dare to imagine. Injecting such nuance makes them capable of transcending both time and space. Such words, like launched arrows develop a trajectory independent of the archer - In Tolstoy's case, posterity has borne out the accuracy of his aim regarding the Human condition.


Certainly not bad, but definitely not my favorite. Anna Karenina, being my favorite book, cast a looming shadow over this small story, so it really barely stood a chance. Much of the prose of Ivan Ilyich resembles that of what you would find in Anna K, but it feels unstructured and jumbled. The beginning, which details several characters who do not show up in the rest of the story and whose existence serves to befuddle the reader (or this reader, at the least, who admittedly has problems retaining unfamiliar and lengthy Russian names.) More than anything, I feel mostly unmoved by a tragic death that's not even that tragic.A smart person once said, apparently, that "Tolstoy's book is about many things: the tyranny of bourgeois niceties, the terrible weak spots of the human heart, the primacy and elision of death. But more than anything, I would offer, it is about the consequences of living without meaning, that is, without a true and abiding connection to one's life." If that's a true statement, and I assume it probably is, I offer this DISCLAIMER: Part of my non-love for this may be due to bad timing. At points I recovered my mind after it had wandered off to ponder TV shows or the dishwasher installer in the next room. In other circumstances, a close reading of this book may have uncovered more riches.


Normally a book that looks this closely at death would, I'm afraid, terrify me. I have enough anxiety already, I don't need to think about the "dragging pain" in Ivan Ilyich's side, which -- being a doctor's daughter -- I could diagnose fairly easily as some kind of cancer, quite probably cancer of the gallbladder. That "dragging pain" is the giveaway to me, because it was in all the descriptions of the sort of pain cancer of the gallbladder causes. I know all about that because of the anxious period before I was diagnosed with gallstones. Anyway, it occurs to me that because Tolstoy never uses a specific word, never tells you specifically what is wrong with Ivan -- in fact, Ivan himself never knows -- it can be whatever you fear. For me, cancer is the obvious one.And okay, yes, this book did terrify me a bit, but I think in the way that it would terrify anybody. Imagining lying at the point of death and questioning if your life was of any use, if you did anything that really made you happy, if you did anything that really made you satisfied...This is nothing like Tolstoy's other books. There's a narrow focus on a single character, and -- in this translation at least -- the words are simple and directly to the point. Tolstoy's gift for a slightly satirical tone is in evidence. Ivan is not a particularly good man, but he's very much an everyman -- you will see yourself in Ivan, unless you really do have an ego so big you can't even be brought to imagine facing your own death.


There are about 10 works of literature that I think about almost on a daily basis. This novella is one of them. Tolstoy pens a story about the basics of life and does so with a satirical yet understated tone. We meet a man who is bogged down in the pettiness of day-to-day cares until the spectre of death hangs over him, causing him to question the meaning of life, the meaning of his life. In this novella, time and space constrict to leave the title character stripped of all the vanities that distract us from our relationship to life, to love and to the divine.

Sachin Piya

"Death of Ivan Ilych" is one of the best short stories I have ever read. In only about 100 pages, Tolstoy describes the facing of death by Ivan Ilych, who basically has lived as any other ordinary man. The story shows how once joyous and happy moments can seem worthless and fruitless moments when one is staring at death. Through this story, Tolstoy makes us look back to our life and look for anything extraordinary we have done. He makes us wonder whether doing everything that we think we "ought to do" is enough to make us be at peace at death bed. This short book of Tolstoy is a must read and I recommend it to everybody.


Uno de los relatos más conocidos de León Tolstoi es ’La muerte de Ivan Ilich’, una trama desarrollada entre las clases burguesas de una Rusia crepuscular, donde el protagonista, Ivan Ilich, es un hombre del que desde el inicio sabemos de su muerte. Ivan Ilich es un alto funcionario, regido por la rectitud y acostumbrado a la comodidad, rodeado de la más alta burguesía, cuya vida familiar transcurre bajo el tedio y el hastío. Sin embargo, un día se da cuenta de que sufre un dolor en el costado, al que no da importancia, pero que le provoca constantes molestias. Dolor que se vuelve persistente y que significará su fin.En esta breve novela, Tolstoi nos plantea múltiples preguntas: ¿Estamos preparados para la muerte? ¿En qué consiste verdaderamente vivir? ¿Vivimos como debemos? Tolstoi no ofrece respuestas a estas preguntas, quién puede, pero en cambio nos desvela el propósito del ser humano en una naturaleza por demás caótica y azarosa, y de su afán por trascender. Sin embargo, todo esto se vuelve intrascendente al encarar la muerte, a la que Ivan Ilich afronta con miedo, preguntándose si su paso por la vida será meramente anecdótico. Tolstoi retrata una burguesía carente de humanidad, presumida y decidida a alcanzar las metas más superficiales. Y esta frivolidad y mezquindad la encontramos en ’La muerte de Ivan Ilich’ sobre todo en sus diálogos.Certero en sus reflexiones, Tolstoi nos muestra a un Ivan Ilich que se pregunta si su vida ha merecido la pena, si la ha malgastado en aspiraciones absurdas. Ante su inminente final, Ivan Ilich intenta comprender el porqué de su muerte. Tolstoi aborda el tema de la muerte de manera directa y sin tapujos, en una historia que te enfrenta a tu realidad y te hace saber algo más de ti mismo.

Daniel Pecheur

Wow is my first expression upon having finished my first Tolstoy- his novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which the Russian master wrote after a religious conversion. Tolstoy is a master of fine details and resplendent subtlety. The work is a meditation on the human condition as Tolstoy saw it, tinged by Christian asceticism, in the case of the title character and all those around him who have succumbed to the spiritual decay of living in monochromatic conformity with the values and the superficialities approved by the professional class society. Under the rubric of those values, which Tolstoy staunchly rejected and satirized, Ivan Ilyich lived a life that seemed exemplary, ostensibly complete and commendable. Ilyich spent his adult life walking in perfect lockstep with the customs of the social order, advancing through various official positions and marrying well and having a family in the fashion that everyone in his class would deem befitting and proper. On the surface, his life was good and he had fulfilled his duties with appropriate rigor. In the midst of his death, everyone who surrounded Ilyich in his life can only think about their own selfish needs and desires and find satisfaction in simply not being the one who died. Their attitudes typify the meaninglessness and emptiness of a lifestyle unfurnished by any spiritual growth and pivoted entirely around what is material and socially validated. The reader experiences Ivan Ilyich's slow death with him, and feels all the stinging nuances of his excruciation in his waning physique and his slow psychological recognition of the inevitable death that subjugates him. No other story has so forcefully communicated the impression of death or transported my imagination so vividly into the gripping terror of feeling death's clutches draining life. Very well wrought with sensational descriptions of feelings and suffering in an ingenious subtlety of story-telling. Ilyich is at last enlightened to the deepest truth of life in facing death, at first with the denial that his life has been wasted, until the sickening awareness of an all-pervading falsity that he sees in everything around him compells him to the redemption of his final acceptance. Light vanquishes the darkness with hope and Tolstoy ends this tale of death in its harrowing succession of phases (encompassed by a life that is void of spiritual sustenance) with the salvation of a final peace. Tolstoy is an artist as a storyteller and he meticulously guides his reader through the slow deterioration and anguish of Ivan Ilyich with such painstaking details and fervor that one is drawn skin-deep into the struggle of Ivan Ilyich, empathizing with it as a universal experience of the human consciousness carrying the unfathomable weight of death's conquest. A brilliant and powerful work.


So this was a Tolstoy...... Hmph, the story doesn't say much except to reiterate how difficult and painful death can be, both physically and emotionally. The story is way too short to establish empathy for Ivan Ilyich! He was a judge. A game of bridge was his favorite amusement. All his life he conformed to proper decorum, becoming with age aloof and irascible. What was the point of life - both he and the readers may ask?! Talk about a depressing book!!!!The narration by Walter Zimmerman was certainly not bad, but it didn't add anything.

David Lentz

In the end as death approaches Ivan Ilyich gives himself credit for living a right life. That is, he considers that he has lived a life which fulfills the expectations that he has had for himself. He has after all become a successful and even influential magistrate in the judicial council. Essentially, he considers himself an ethical man. The question which which torments him, as he approaches the end of his life, is whether he led the right life. Did he lead a life that was the best possible one for him? It's one thing to become educated, marry, have children, work hard and die. It's quite another to choose a life which is fulfilling. "There is no explanation. Suffering, death ... for what?" he asks. He becomes consumed with the question as to what is the point of his life? And he has no satisfying answers to this question. His ultimate judgment is upon himself and yet the verdict lacks clarity. Ultimately, to his colleagues the greatest importance is who will take his place upon the judicial council after he is gone. The irony is rich in this story by Tolstoy who has a gift for defning the great questions of life (How Much Land Does a Man Need?) You can never do wrong by reading Tolstoy: this is a very fine and accessible piece of writing beautiflly and lyrically translated by Ann Pasternak Slater.

Gordon Jonas

Tolstoy kept it very fucking real. I find that "the Russians" material is generally surprisingly relevant for this day and age, even as early as Turgenev, and this is no exception. The first story in this collection, Family Happiness, is a bit slow and maybe the least accessible of the bunch. Still, the topic of filial life is examined in an interesting, if slightly depressing way. Everything after is gold. The kreutzner sonata is dark and examines aspects of the female condition and the male psyche in remarkably prescient fashion. The titular (what a great word) story is fantastic in its own right, though you can get the gist of it just from the litany of commentary on it. The last story, HadjiMurad, was the most interesting to me. It is a narrative, based on true events and real folk hero Hadji Murad, depicting the conflict between the Russians and the people of Chechnya. Tolstoy makes excellent use of omniscient narration and shows surprising empathy for the Avars and respect for the diligence and loyalty of their culture. There is also no shortage of political commentary; Tolstoy does not hesitate to rip into the lofty lifestyles of Russian gentry. After this introduction to his work, I'm (almost) ready for War & Peace.


Seriously, I don't get the hype about Tolstoy. I read this book and hated pretty much every minute of it, even when I was trying my damnedest to like it. It was just so damn pedestrian. Some wealthy guy that realizes on his deathbed that his half-assed life pursuing money and position and being married to a woman he can barely stand was a waste. He idolizes the simple peasant who is the only person who is kind to him as he dies and realizes what a better life this poor noble man had than him with all of his money and position. Oh woe is fucking me! I've heard this story told before and I've heard it told much better than this. Literally ahlf the book was the guy dying. It was like watching the movie Titanic where you want to scream, just sink already!! I mean really, just die! I highly recommend avoiding this ridiculous book at all costs.


You are transported to the world of Ivan and walk with him to his last moments at deaths door. A story of the terror of death and Ivan's fear of dying, his concern and sorrow for his families witnessing of his howling and decline. Suffering realizes joy of youth and memories of the best of days, while he is in this process of death the solitude brings him to doors of gone memories of happiness. How our daily trappings take us away from finer and truer happier moments of life, a time lost so valuable, we are a generational lost by media consumption, mobiles, internet and tv fine examples of vehicles of joyous hours but are also guilty of stealing our treasured hours that could be spent in much so joyous moments, i myself am guilty of these behaviours but i find the much joy in the solitude and private thought of words and reading. A short story but the magnitude of the message conveyed great to me I am now thinking of my past and age of innocence, ignorance is bliss words uttered by oh so many. This is the first reading of any of Tolstoy's works for me and I wait in anticipation to descent upon the treasure trove of his works of literature, Bon voyage alas I must hasten to read more and more. "From the very beginning of his illness, from the time when Ivan Ilyvich first went to the doctor, his life had divided into two opposite states of mind, which alternated each other: now there was despair and the expectation of the incomprehensible and terrible death, now there was hope and the interest-filled process of observing the functioning of his body. Now there hung before his eyes a kidney or an intestine that shirked it's duty for a time; now there was only incomprehensible, terrible death, from which there was no escape." "In the recent time of that solitude in which he found himself, lying face to the back f the sofa, that solitude in the midst of the populous town and his numerous acquaintances and family- a solitude than which there could be none more total anywhere; not at the bottom of the sea, not under the earth-in the recent time of that dreadful solitude, Ivan Ilyvich had lived only on imaginings of the past. One after another, pictures of the past appeared to him. They always began with the nearest time and went back to the most remote, to childhood, and there they stayed.""And again right there, along with this course of recollection, another course of recollection was going o his soul-of how his illness had grown and worsened. The further back he went, the more life there was. There was a goodness in life, and more of life itself. The two merged together."As my torment kept on getting worse and worse, so the whole of life got worse and worse," he thought. There was one bright spot back there, at the beginning of life, and then it became darker and darker, ever quicker and quicker. "In inverse proportion to the square of the distance from death," thought Ivan Ilyvich. And this image of a stone plunging down with increasing speed sank into his soul. Life, a series of ever-increasing sufferings, races faster and faster towards it's end, the most dreadful suffering."


Pobre Ivan Ilich. Se le fué la vida en nada y se dió cuenta un momento antes de morir.Porque se entera de que todo ha sido una mentira, qué puede ser más terrible que eso? Es de una tristeza profunda y cansada, llena de desilusión y de tiempo perdido.Se enferma sin darse cuenta, pensando que estaba viviendo una vida ideal.Cada paso que damos nos acerca a un acierto, o a un error.Le cuesta aceptar que “no ha vivido su vida como debía”, porque es como decir que no tuvo ningún sentido, al encontrarse frente a la muerte. Todas las elecciones que ha hecho han sido mentira. Se dejó llevar por el caparazón de la existencia, sin escuchar a la esencia de su alma cuando le pedía algo que fuera distinto a lo que dictaban los demás . Solo pedía tranquilidad, y cayó en una trampa.Puedes engañarte toda la vida, pero eventualmente la verdad sale a relucir. Nunca podrás mentirle a tu alma.


Tolstoy's brief novella 'Death of Ivan Ilyich' is one of the most compact and brilliant meditations on the meaning of death in literature. Tolstoy's breathtaking naturalism is truly miraculous. Ivan Ilyich is respectful administrator who is dying a painful death from a malignant tumor. Much as Kafka would later do in 'The Metamorphosis,' the dying man's suffering is nothing more than an annoyance for his friends and family. He spirals into a decline of intense suffering as he must stare into the meaning of his life and his inevitable end.Master and Man is also a wonderful novella, filled with stark, realistic depictions of the Russian peasantry, as a greedy landowner drags his obedient servant on a journey into a night blizzard to claim more property. As the pair become increasingly lost, they too must grapple with the possibility of their mortality.Pasternak has provided competent, though clunky translations of Tolstoy's original Russian.

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