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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best things Tolstoy ever wrote
As Wittgenstein said 'Death is not an event in life'. In Tolstoy's narrative we see frequently how those still living are unsure of how to react in a genuine way to those dying, and instead fall back on their normal habits and approaches to life - one character early on won't let Ivan's death stop him from his evening routine of gambling. Ivan's widow is, between her...
Published on 7 Jun. 2005

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars It's like a notebook that someone has copied from the original
The book looks awful. It's like a notebook that someone has copied from the original. I would have a better and more fitting book.
Published 4 months ago by Christina


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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best things Tolstoy ever wrote, 7 Jun. 2005
By A Customer
As Wittgenstein said 'Death is not an event in life'. In Tolstoy's narrative we see frequently how those still living are unsure of how to react in a genuine way to those dying, and instead fall back on their normal habits and approaches to life - one character early on won't let Ivan's death stop him from his evening routine of gambling. Ivan's widow is, between her sobs, concerned that she should get the maximum amount possible from the government to cover his funeral. It's touches like these which bring to mind Auden's 'Musee des beaux Arts', and also make the narrative ring as true as as it does. Another significant strand to the story is Ivan's relationship with his servant Gerasim, who cares for him as he approaches death. Gerasim is different from many other characters in that he is able to deal with the dying Ivan in a way that is not disgusted, patronising or false. He is the one character who is actually able to relate to him genuinely as he is dying. And this is one of Tolstoy's more didactic points that he sneaks into this narrative of dying, that he sees peasants as being more authentic than the aristocracy of which he was so much a part. But the didacticness never gets in the way of the story, as it arguably does in some of Tolstoy's longer works, and 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' shows Tolstoy at his most concentratedly brilliant.
The translation of this Hesperus Press edition is excellent, and the story is also supplemented by 'The Devil', a story about an aristocrat falling in love/lust with a peasant girl, and its unhappy consequences. While it may not be quite 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich', 'The Devil' is still worth reading. Altogether, a very worthwhile buy.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Moving and progressively grimmer as the story develops, 21 Sept. 2007
By 
John Hopper (London, UK) - See all my reviews
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The thoughts and feelings of a man towards his family and those around him as he gets progressively more ill and is then dying from a wasting disease that sounds like cancer. The opening chapters are quite light-hearted with some ruefully amusing reflections on marriage and attitudes towards ones career, but then the mood becomes much darker and he ends being cynical about his family, seeing them as wishing his death to come sooner so they can be free of the burden of caring for him. A short story but one with a lot to say about the human condition and by no means necessarily tied to its Russian background.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars On reading Tolstoy for the first time, 16 Jan. 2009
By 
Dennis Littrell (SoCal) - See all my reviews
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I've been reluctant for decades to read the great Russian master because I never felt I had the time to tackle War and Peace or Anna Karenina. I suspect others have felt the same way and thereby missed reading one of the truly great literary artists to have ever lived. Put it off no more. Pick up this 317-page splendid collection of some of Leo Tolstoy's best stories including the celebrated "The Death of Ivan Ilyich."
There are six other stories, the most significant of which is perhaps the sad "Polikushka" which is just about as long as "Ivan Ilyich" and to my mind a bit better in some respects. I also very much liked "The Raid" and "The Woodfelling" which are starkly realistic stories about soldiers engaged and not engaged in battle told wistfully without phony heroics or needless sensationalism. In fact, every story is not just excellent, but deeply engaging, cathartic and transcending as only great literature can be.

You don't have to read more than a few pages before you are struck with the sheer majesty of Tolstoy's gargantuan narrative style, his command of all aspects of storytelling from the kind of deep understanding of character that one finds in Shakespeare, to the kind of descriptive power about people and their environs that can only come from someone with a prodigious memory, a sharp eye and an unusual ability to concentrate. Somehow Tolstoy always knows what to leave in and what to leave out. He knows how to describe without slowing down the tale or making the reader aware of "purple passages." Everything flows like the great Don as naturally as breathing, but with a massive density of observation and experience, both intellectual and emotional, that frankly leaves this scribe in awe.

Tolstoy reminds me of Guy de Maupassant in his realistic depictions of peasant and bourgeois life, except that--hard to believe--he is even better! Furthermore, Tolstoy displays in a restrained and subtle manner a deep love for his characters. Again like Shakespeare he understands the psychology of the high and the low and is sympathetic to their struggles. Even though Ivan Ilyich was a self-important and pitiless magistrate who lived something close to an empty, unobserved life, which Tolstoy presents without rancor or pity, there is nonetheless a sense, especially toward the end, of compassion and empathy for a man who, although elevated in society, really didn't know any better than to blindly follow an animal bourgeois existence.

Although some of the stories are written in the first person Tolstoy stands back and is uninvolved, a seeing eye and a listening ear. Because of his great narrative power, Tolstoy even in the first person seems almost god-like in his point of view. He sees the landscapes and the trees and little children with their soft skin and plaintive cries, and he sees the blowhards and the hypocrites, the pathetic and the drunk, and the stupid, and treats them all the same. For the most part, at any rate. Sometimes his gaze favors some and disparages others. He is both objective and subjective, both a literary artist who values truth with a capital "T" and someone who cares deeply about these people he has invented/imagined/observed and remembered. He presents such an incredibly rich and vivid portrait of life in 19th century Russia that you feel you are there in the bitter cold beneath high blue skies, wearing the rags and the birch bark boots, smoking the cheap tobacco and throwing back the oily vodka, sleeping five to a bed listening to the cockroaches near the stove in the black of night, fearful of death and crossing yourself before icons, and all the while dreaming of something grand and laughing uneasily at the absurdity of life and shivering at the inevitability of death.

Yes, this collection, as Anthony Briggs, one of the translators, says in his fine introduction, is about death. Ivan Ilyich dies, but many others also die. Some in battle, some in bravado, some by accident and some by their own hand. Some foolishly, some painfully, some without a notion of why or what for, but all of them essentially alone. Tolstoy focuses intently on this dying and goes deep into the souls of those dying, how they cling to life and rationalize away what is to come and what they have done, lying to themselves; and how others take it as their due, without self-pity, without a word, just a hand to the chest and a stoppage of life, and then a report, some words exchanged, a bit of gossip about so-and-so who is now gone.

But as Carl Sandburg told us, the grass will still grow and cover all, and life will go on, and again the same delusions and appetites and vanities will be propagated and the same pain and suffering, the same petty quarrels and petty delights, snatches of beauty amidst the ugly squalor will be seen again, and, as at the ending of "The Raid," a sonorous voice will once again lift itself into the air in song, and the men will move quietly on to a new task, a new beginning, toward a final ending somewhere down the long and dusty road.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A brilliant study into the cost of sentience, 13 Oct. 2011
By 
Mr. Timothy W. Dumble (Sunderland, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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I decided to read this novella after it was referenced in 'Affluenza'- a debt of gratitude to Oliver James. Having never read any of the works of the 'great' Russian authors before I found this work an ideal starting point.Like Dickens, Tolstoy (at least in this translation) communicates with great clarity and with insight into the human condition.

What renders this short work and the accompanying piece 'The Devil' so powerful is its incredible resonance with every reader.As we are all sentient, self aware beings we all face the trials of Ivan Ilyich -an inevitable death and a life in between which we hope to fashion in a manner which ultimately we feel,in the event of our own deaths fulfilled and worthwhile.

We also face the same struggle as Yevgeny Irtenyev (in 'The Devil') in constructing a moral framework by which to live our lives and to restrain our base instincts or live with the consequences of guilt.

In brilliantly depicting the costs of the sentience of our own mortality and struggles with personal conscience, Tolstoy emerges as a 19th Century existensialist.Indeed he suggests that there is no escape from the inner consciousness and consequently self realisation rather than religious epiphany lies at the core of happiness.The need to do what is right must come from within rather than be provided extrinsically by religion.

This edition is ably supported with effective notes, essays and bibliography.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars it made me think, 16 Aug. 2013
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilych (Kindle Edition)
I enjoyed reading this book. It gives a somewhat gloomy but realistic view of the way we tend to live our lives. But the imminent prospect of death exposes things in our lives that we have been able to conceal by denial or hypocrisy in the busyness of life. It made me reflect on what I may regret when death is right in front of me - but also what I might value and cherish to my dying day. Perhaps it is relationships, both good and bad that will be the key factor when we reflect on our life as death approaches. A thoughtful read.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Depressing in a good way, 20 Mar. 2014
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GD (Bogor, West Java, ID) - See all my reviews
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Ivan's introspection as he approaches his death gives us a chance to correct the paths of our own lives before it is too late for us. An examination of the futility of a life lived to please the expectations of others rather than for intrinsic satisfaction; as relevant today as it was in Czarist Russia.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life affirming, 19 Jan. 2013
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilych (Kindle Edition)
amazing insight into what it is to look death in the face. yet for such a potentially depressing subject it is an uplifting read. Tolstoy's prose is fresh and fluid and a joy to read. people say reading war an peace should be on everyone bucket list but this should be read first
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5.0 out of 5 stars This brilliant account of a death is as valid today as ..., 3 Sept. 2014
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This brilliant account of a death is as valid today as when it was written. Ivan's journey from annoyance and incredulity to a realisation of the inevitable which all but one of his circle refuse to recognise is harrowing to read but a literary masterpiece. Thanks to Oliver James for the recommendation.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Not a book to read if you or loved one is suffering from a terminal illness but Tolstoy ..., 20 Aug. 2014
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This review is from: The Death of Ivan Ilych (Kindle Edition)
Not a book to read if you or loved one is suffering from a terminal illness but Tolstoy is always an excellent and easy read. Imagine I will re-read this book a few times. Makes you re-evaluate your own life.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Classic Tolstoy, 1 Jun. 2015
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Read in preparation for Msc module in palliative care, teaches us many lessons about care of the dying, with tolstoy's description of his final hours particularly brilliant
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