The death of Ivan Ilyich
written by Leo Tolstoj, published by Penguin Classics
genre novel, 106 pages
When a famous writer recommended this book and mentioned how much she loved it, I ended up buying a novel I probably never would have picked out myself. A novel telling the sad story of a dying man. A book I somehow love so much that I have read it several times now and probably will keep reading it every single year.
The story in short
It’s the year of 1882 when 45 year old Ivan Ilyich Golovin slowly but surely finds out he is a dying man. Although the doctors and his family cannot agree on the seriousness of his condition, for Ivan there’s no denying; this is the end.
Like most dying people Ivan starts to take measure of the life he has led. Starting off with the conviction he has led a righteous and proper life, following the path of duty that was laid out for him, surrounding himself with wealthy and powerful people.
But while his physical condition weakens, Ivan starts to realize he has not been a happy man and he is not at all satisfied with the life he has created and the people that are surrounding him.
In his final days and hours, the realization that he has led the wrong kind of life is even harder to endure than the physical pain and suffering. Thankfully Ivan finds comfort in the presence and care of his young servant Gerasim and while his final hour is nearing he has to find a way to deal with the reality of his life, he has to find a way to die.
“He would go into his study, lie down and find himself alone again with It.
Face to face with It. Nothing to be done about It.
Only stare at It and go cold.”
– Ivan Ilyich
Why you should read this book
Even though I’ve read this book several times already, I still find it hard to explain why I love it so much and keep reading it. Of course the theme of reflecting on life and what’s important and what is not, has always been one of my interests. I guess it’s also Tolstoj’s down to earth way of writing and the way he’s given a rigid man those strong new insights. Just like the writer who encouraged me to read it, I can really recommend this novel, it’s definitely a book worth reading.