Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. 2009)

            Leo Tolstoy. 1828 to 1910

            At 76.                                    While an Officer in the Russian
                                                          Army during the Crimean War, at 20

Since beginning The Reading Life in July 2009 I have read  War and Peace, Anna Karenina as well as a few short stories by Leo Tolstoy.  Having recently watched an episode of the BBC adoption of   War and Peace, I have taken on a desire to read it for the forth time, hopefully this year.  

In addition to the major novels, the highly regarded translation team of Richard  Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky have published a volume including "The Death of Ivan Illyich" (some treat it as a novella) and ten other short works of fiction. 

Ivan Illyich is a moderately successful Russian official working in the judiciary, in the provinces.  He is reasonably happy in his marriage, sometimes enjoys the petty power his job gives him, enjoys a good meal and a drink and loves to play cards.  He is also dying.  No one, especially his wife, wants to acknowledge this.  The story is  a disturbing very insightful look at the metamorphoses that often accur in a long marriage.  Tolstoy has a very deep understanding of the marriage of Ivan and his wife.  

We see Ivan trying to come to terms with his mortality.  We also learn a good bit about the politics of the life of a judge in Czarist Russia.  

This is a very fine  work of art, worthy of the world's greatest novelist.  If you have been married a while you will be pushed into pondering your relationship.  I am so glad I have experienced "The Death of Ivan Illyich".  

Mel u 


RT said...

In spite of my Swiss-cheese memory, a side-effect of accelerated aging, I have some recollection of reading Tolstoy's novella, and I remember being deeply disturbed/rocked by the experience. Something tells me -- well, you tell me in your posting -- that I ought to revisit Ivan someday soon (i.e., before it is too late).

BTW, thank you for the comments at my blog(s); even though I did not respond directly at the time (owing to computer problems yesterday), I very much appreciate your thoughtful responses to the small-minded mutterings of this old fool.

All the best from Swiss-Cheese.

Fred said...

This is one of Tolstoy's best and most powerful works.

This quotation grabbed me the first time I read it, and it has stayed with me for decades. Sometimes I think I understand, but at other times I'm not so sure.

"Ivan Ilych's life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible."