Tuesday, June 27, 2017

173. The Death of Ivan Ilyich

The Death of Ivan Ilyich
Leo Tolstoy
1886
Around 100 pages












After A Woman's Life, we were clearly in need of something a bit more cheerful.  Enter The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Ivan Ilyich lives a completely ordinary life as a magistrate, providing for his demanding wife, equally awful daughter, and son.  One day, he is putting up curtains and falls (this is why my apartment does not have curtains; it has nothing to do with laziness), resulting in some sort of terminal malady.  As Ivan is dying, he realizes his whole life has been a waste.

In fiction, death is often romanticized.  People get to die for the people they love, it's always sudden, and they often get to have amazing last words.  In real life, of course, it is nothing like that.  Tolstoy gives us an unflinching look at the agony and horror of real death.

As Tolstoy illustrates, death is senseless, drawn out, horrific...and I found myself saying, so what?  It's not like anything is going to actually prepare us for it when it happens to us.  I suppose Tolstoy is trying to impart some sort of wisdom: don't waste your life, etc.  This is pretty vague and in any case, I don't really subscribe to Tolstoy's advice.  Tolstoy as a writer I love.  Tolstoy as a philosopher?  Not so much.

Anyway, it's a short read and obviously well written.  But it is overrated in my opinion.

RATING: ***--

Interesting Facts:

Tolstoy tried to commit suicide at the age of 50 but was unsuccessful.

UP NEXT: Against the Grain by Joris-Karl Huysmans.

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