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The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories [Paperback]

Leo Tolstoy , Richard Pevear , Larissa Volokhonsky
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (44 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 5 2010
A vibrant translation of Tolstoy’s most important short fiction by the award-winning translators of War and Peace.
Here are eleven masterful stories from the mature author, some autobiographical, others moral parables, and all told with the evocative power that was Tolstoy’s alone.  They include “The Prisoner of the Caucasus,” inspired by Tolstoy's own experiences as a soldier in the Chechen War, “Hadji Murat,” the novella Harold Bloom called “the best story in the world,” “The Devil,” a fascinating tale of sexual obsession, and the celebrated “The Death of Ivan Ilyich,” an intense and moving examination of death and the possibilities of redemption.
Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation captures the richness, immediacy, and multiplicity of Tolstoy’s language, and reveals the author as a passionate moral guide, an unflinching seeker of truth, and ultimately, a creator of enduring and universal art.

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“Excellent. . . . The duo has managed to convey the rather simple elegance of Tolstoy’s prose.” —The New Criterion

“[Tolstoy’s] late style is leaner, his forms more spare, but this is also the economy of achieved mastery. He does more with less, and the Tolstoyan sounds, instantly recognizable, are still there. . . . [Pevear and Volokhonsky’s] new version is more flexible, individuated, immediate.” —The Nation
The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories is a great collection well translated. As a lover of Tolstoy’s work, one couldn’t ask for more, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.” —André Alexis, The Globe and Mail

About the Author

Count Leo Nikolaevich Tolstoy displayed an extraordinary duality of character in a life filled with deep contradictions. He was born to an artistocratic Russian family on Sept. 9, 1828. His parents died when he was young, and he was raised by several female relatives. In 1844 he entered the University of Kazan, remaining there only three years. At the age of 23, Tolstoy joined the Russian Army and fought in the Crimean War. While still in the service, his first published story appeared, a largely autobiographical work called Childhood (1852). Tolstoy returned to his estate in 1861 and and established a school for peasant children there. In 1862, he married Sofia Behrs and gradually abandoned his involvement with the school. The next fifteen years he devoted to managing the estate, raising his and Sofia's large family, and writing his two major works, War and Peace (1865-67) and Anna Karenina (1875-77). During the latter part of this fifteen-year period, Tolstoy found himself growing increasingly disenchanted with the teachings of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the ensuing years, Tolstoy formulated for himself a new Christian ideal, the central creed of which involved nonresistance to evil; he also preached against the corrupt evil of the Russian state, of the need for ending all violence, and of the moral perfectibility of man. He continued to write voluminously, primarily nonfiction, but also other works, such as The Death of Ivan Ilyich (1886). In 1910, still unable to reconcile the differences in the lives led by the aristocracy and the simpler existence he craved, Tolstoy left the estate. He soon fell ill and was found dead on a cot in a remote railway station. He was buried on his estate at Yasnaya Pulyana.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars "Death is over ... there is no more death" May 30 2008
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Tolstoy's short novel starts with the aftermath of Ivan Ilych's death. His colleagues gather to execute the polite formalities before moving on with relief to their regular whist game. "Well isn't that something--he's dead, but I'm not."

Ivan Ilych is a self-satisfied high court judge who injured himself in a fall, and later fell ill with a vaguely diagnosed disturbance of his organs. At first the pain is an offensive intruder to his smug routine but it becomes worse and eventually it's clear that he is dying. Clear, that is, to him, though his family and colleagues infuriate him by living the lie that he will recover if he just follows the doctor's advice.

Tolstoy makes it plain to the reader in the early part of the story that Ivan Ilych's life is hollow and calculating. His marriage was undertaken casually and for convenience, not love. He takes pride in the trappings and petty powers of his position as a prosecutor and a judge. When he falls ill and consults a physician, he takes umbrage at the impersonal formalities and the patronizing air of the doctor--a mirror image of his own demeanor in his court.

Tolstoy himself was plagued by the idea of death, its inevitability and unfairness, and he wrote all his rage against death into this short piece. Critics believe that he also wrote his conversion to Christianity into it as well. Ivan Ilych denies the importance of his pain as long as he can, then pours out his anger at the unfairness of it all, becoming "difficult" at home and work. One moment he believes the medicines and positive thinking will put things right, the next he's overwhelmed with despair that life could all come down to this.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece Jan. 7 2004
By A Customer
I bought this book to test the waters before I tackled something big like his War and Peace, and to gain appreciation for such a well respected author before a teacher or professor had the opportunity to shove it down my throat. I am very glad I did!
Tolstoy has a gift for words that draws the readers in and allows him to project his character's emotions onto them. He has the capacity to be romantic without being mushy or dark without being overbearing. At the end, he left me with a sincere impression, profound respect and still-lingering admiration.
This book belongs on everyone's bookshelves.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Only 10 of us?? Oct. 31 2003
I am so sorry only 9 other people have reviewed this book for Amazon. If it were up to me, I'd place a copy in every hotel and motel room in America, right next to Gideon. I realize that some books just hit us the right way at certain times in our lives, and I once had a hard time trying to persuade 18- and 19-year-olds to appreciate this one. But when I was around 30, I read the title novella, and it changed my life by changing my outlook on life and enabling me to make some decisions I'd never have taken seriously if I hadn't read it.
But I don't want to scare you off. Tolstoy is perfectly accessible, the title character's dilemma is heartrending (the title gives you a clue), the characters universal, and the effect upon closing the cover after the last page indelible. If one person reads it after reading these 10 reviews, I'll be happy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Those not ready to die are not ready to live..... Jan. 14 2012
By Ronald W. Maron TOP 500 REVIEWER
As a long standing critic of the art of short story writing I can say, without a doubt, that this tale is the premium classic of all that has been created. I strongly advise that this reading to be included in everyone's list of lifetime prose experiences.

Within this tale we, most unfortunately, must come to face ourselves and the experience of our own existense. It is only by degrees that we can measure our lives as being different from that of Ivan Ilyich. None of us can make the statement that "This is not I!" without a great deal of denial and repression. Do we take our professional lives to the point of them becoming the base of our personalities? Do we embrace and appreciate those around us or do we forcefully nudge them to the side because they do not meet our unrealistic expectations? Are we truly the gregarious person we think we are or are we, too, merely an animate facade which laughs/laments/cajoles only when socially appropriate? Is altruism the core of our souls or is it actually a much less kinder word; like narcissism or simple selfishness? Do we see a wholeness in the inner spirit of our lives, learning like we will live forever but living like we will die tomorrow or do we, like Ivan Ilyich, feel that life itself is purposeless and we are left abandoned when it is time for it to conclude?

Ponder these and greater thoughts as you read this classic tale and, by doing so, you will not only come to know yourself better for who you really are but will come to identify what the actual meaning of life could possibly be....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exceptional and quick read July 16 2002
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This is an exceptional book. On one front, you have an opportunity to explore Tolstoy's mind without devouring one of his more notable (and lengthy) novels (War and Peace, Anna K). That alone should be worth reading the 100 or so pages.

On another front, this work ranks up there as one of the greatest literary achievements since ink found its way on paper. Do not be fooled by the titled. This book is not about death, but about life. After finishing this book, one question loomed frequently in my head: is death nothing more than a state of mind?
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Tolstoy at his best!
To be able to "dip in and dip out" of the prose of Leo Tolstoy is really a privilege, and this new translation makes it even more so. Read more
Published on May 7 2010 by Paul Reinhardt
4.0 out of 5 stars Read it for "Ivan Ilyich" alone
This volume contains three novellas by Tolstoy, of which "The Cossacks" was most famous in his own time. Read more
Published on Sept. 20 2003 by MR G. Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars Born knowing only life
We are born knowing only life but it takes courage to realize this and rise above the mundane, to make the ordinary extraordinary, fully exploring and experiencing life for the... Read more
Published on March 15 2003 by Damian P. Gadal
5.0 out of 5 stars In Passing
Tolstoy's novella makes rewarding and unsettling reading. Surely, I can think of no novel that treats dying as boldly. Death is a fact. Read more
Published on Sept. 20 2002 by Alvaro Lewis
4.0 out of 5 stars immensely important and meaningful--except the end
"the death of ivan illyich" is probably one of the most important books ever written, but not for the reason that many of the other reviewers on this page imagine. Read more
Published on March 24 2002 by J from NY
5.0 out of 5 stars Death
This is my first Tolstoy book. Excellent, breathtaking, and strinkingly similiar to some people. I read this book as a final assignment in my Medical Ethics class-the reading is... Read more
Published on Nov. 27 2001 by Steven M Andescavage the Great
2.0 out of 5 stars It's missing something.
I felt that this book lacked the kind of depth it needed to properly convey its meaning. Tolstoy rambles too much to make the story truely *interesting*, and Ivan Ilyich's untimely... Read more
Published on Aug. 21 2001 by "anodos"
4.0 out of 5 stars Review of "Death of Ivan Ilyich"
I highly recommend this book for a successful affluent professional who was once blessed with a nice education, nice position, nice family, nice home, nice car, blah, blah, blah,... Read more
Published on Aug. 13 2001 by Zohreh Valai
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