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The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories

4.17  ·  Rating Details  ·  787 Ratings  ·  48 Reviews
Hardcover, 500 pages
Published November 17th 2009 by Knopf
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Anna Karenina by Leo TolstoyWar and Peace by Leo TolstoyThe Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo TolstoyThe Kreutzer Sonata by Leo TolstoyResurrection by Leo Tolstoy
The Best of Tolstoy
14th out of 26 books — 435 voters
The Help by Kathryn StockettThe Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk KiddGone with the Wind by Margaret MitchellPride and Prejudice by Jane AustenFried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
Best Women's Fiction Novels
229th out of 1,233 books — 1,178 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,458)
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Justin Evans
Dec 04, 2015 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
It's nice to be reminded every now and then that moralization can be used to make great literature, since our literature is so dominated by the idea that moralizing is always a flaw. Tolstoy appears to have been a natural at moralizing.

Others will not doubt disagree, but I'm willing to argue that the best stories here are precisely those in which the moral of the story (or morality of the author) comes through most clearly: Ivan Ilyich, of course, but also The Kreutzer Sonata, The Devil, Master
Dec 25, 2015 Anthony rated it really liked it
Very affecting novel--it forces one to think about death as a real thing that will actually happen, rather than an abstract concept. It feels didactic at times--if a Dostoevsky novel is as tempestous and polyphonic as a tossing ocean, then Tolstoy is as monolithic and monophonic as Washington monument. He clearly has a perspective on life he is expousing, and anything which contradicts it is not taken very seriously. That takes away slightly from its power--the only character who feels real is I ...more
Apr 06, 2012 Frankie rated it really liked it
Shelves: russian
I read this collection in parallel with A Confession and Other Religious Writings. The change in style or at least underlying moral scope is evident in some of these works, compared with his two heavy novels earlier in his career. The two Caucasian tales "The Prisoner…" and "Hadji Murat" are both very detailed culturally and nearly documentary in detail, right down to the appended glossary of Caucasian terms. I didn't particularly enjoy these as I did the similar Gogol and Lermontov stories of t ...more
Apr 26, 2015 James rated it really liked it
The Death of Ivan Ilych is notable for many things not the least being its focus on the life of Ivan Ilych; for, after introducing the narrative with the announcement of his death the story continues with his life up to and including his last days. This is the story of a very ordinary man, a Russian equivalent of an American John Smith, who is notable by his coworkers as being likable, but not so important that they do not make their first thoughts upon his death an intense discussion about how ...more
Traci Emerson
Dec 30, 2015 Traci Emerson rated it really liked it
Though this is not always true of prefaces or introductions, the intro in this particular volume shaped the way that I read the story, and this time in a good way. In reading the introduction I understood that this short piece was written after some of his most famous works, such as War and Peace and Anna Karenina (both of epic length and latitude). The brevity of this piece, then, was an effort to purge his art of the frivolity, or rather, comprehensive description that typified his longer nove ...more
Brian Bess
Oct 28, 2015 Brian Bess rated it really liked it
The smaller Tolstoyan platforms

NOTE: This review is of the Richard Pevear/Larissa Volokhonsky translation.

One thing that Leo Tolstoy could never be accused of was being a minimalist. He is best known for the massive novel 'Anna Karenina' and the even more massive 'War and Peace'. Almost all of his fiction seems to be an attempt to pack in as much panoramic life as possible. This characteristic applies to his shorter pieces as well as his novels.

This new translation (2009) assembles his best know
Aug 30, 2015 Winmonroe rated it it was amazing
The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Tolstoy 9/10

Described by the back of the book as "an intense and moving examination of death and the possibilities of redemption." It is certainly those things, though I found the redemption part a little less compelling, while the ruminations of the possibilities of redemption struck me as deeply moving. My favorite parts of the story, however, were passages where Tolstoy seems to capture these complex social interactions or thoughts or exchanges that on the one hand
Mark Sacha
Apr 29, 2015 Mark Sacha added it
Shelves: russian
This is the dark side of Tolstoy, the artist-turned-ideologue who in an act of ostensible reformation ends up feeding his worst impulses. Most of the works P&V translated for this collection date from after Leo's nosedive into religious fanaticism, when in characteristic pious fashion he devoted himself to railing against the specific moral failings he was most beholden to: especially sex. One can only imagine that in some highly developed condition of shame, the once humanistic writer took ...more
Jun 21, 2010 Bram rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2010, the-russians
For some reason, I'm reluctant to bestow 5 stars on short story collections that have been cobbled together by persons other than the author. That said, this and Chekhov's set probably deserve it.
The Gemsbok
Feb 13, 2016 The Gemsbok rated it it was amazing
Proximity to Death: Authentic Living and Authentic Dying in Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich


The abiding concern of the most controversial and often the most fascinating instances of Leo Tolstoy’s later fiction was the struggle for meaning in the midst of the author’s own existential crisis. Among that later fiction, there is arguably nowhere that struggle attains more pathos nor more honesty than in his novella, The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Unlike other works by Tolstoy, the novel
Howard McEwen
Feb 22, 2013 Howard McEwen rated it it was amazing
Let me put get the usual sobriquets out of the way: this is a brilliant story. Tolstoy masterfully telescopes the life of a man from his colleagues and work life down to his household concerns and pastimes then down to his wife and daughter then his son. Finally, Tolstoy brings us into the very essence of a man’s soul as his life slowly circles the drain.

There’s pathos, insight and understanding of the man.

This is my first foray into Tolstoy and once I realized - about 85% of the way through th
Sep 01, 2011 Mike rated it liked it
READ FATHER SERGIUS AND HADJI MURAT! They are both works that should make this whole collection 5 stars altogether. Buy the book for those two stories. They really are awesome and make me want to shout “5 stars, you ass!” But what to do with the rest?

Short story collections are the damnedest thing to review – even if there is absolute and astounding perfection deep within its pages, it can be hard to recommend the collection on its merits as a collection. Realizing this mistake with an earlier r
Jun 16, 2012 Erin rated it liked it
1. Prisoner of Caucasus - simple narrative about a soldier who is captured, befriended, recaptured, then escapes.
2. Diary of a Mad Man - A man seeking the purpose of life finds the Bible, and in it, reason to eschew profit in order to help his fellow man. More like diary of a Non-mad man. I think a few good ol' boys could benefit from reading this one.
3. Death of Ivan Ilyich - Story of a dying man, in a fashion closer to what I would expect of Tolstoy.
4. Kreutzer Sonata - Devilish tale of a murd
Feb 18, 2013 Rick rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Some of these stories are perfect, the writing as good as the writing in Tolstoy’s great novels; others are merely very good. None is merely okay and all are ambitious. The title story shows you how a family and community respond to an individual’s death in ways both poignant and sad, beginning with colleagues mulling the potential benefits the death might bring to their careers and continuing with the widow’s melodramatically self-serving grief. Two stories, "The Prisoner of the Caucasus" and " ...more
Mar 22, 2013 Kurt rated it really liked it
Q: How did the Russian author commit suicide?
A: He jumped off of one of his novels.

Russian author Leo Tolstoy is deservedly considered one of the world's greatest writers. This collection of eleven of his short stories would be a great introduction to Tolstoy's amazing talent for those who might be put off or intimidated by his very lengthy but more famous works like Anna Karenina and War and Peace. Here is a short summary of all eleven stories. Obviously, spoilers follow:

The Prisoner of the Cau
Jun 15, 2014 Al rated it liked it
Even if you are in awe of Tolstoy the novelist, you may find this short story collection falls short of expectations. In the later years of his life, Tolstoy went the moral, spiritual route in his stories, and that may guide your reaction to these tales, some coming off as parables. This was a book club selection, and the moral focus seemed to put off many of our readers. Nonetheless, from accepting death to fighting temptation, Tolstoy's commanding insight into human behavior is on full display ...more
Jeffrey Larocque
May 29, 2012 Jeffrey Larocque rated it really liked it
You wouldn't ask whether or not a story by Tolstoy is good, because Tolstoy is one of those immortal figures who seems to have been always fully matured as an author. That must be why he's so confident playing with so many different short story concepts, all creative and well-realized, some more moralistic than others. There's plenty here of both Tolstoy the moralist and Tolstoy the humanist, but, as always, he's best when he takes a step back and lets his characters react to whatever plot he th ...more
Feb 20, 2010 Tom is currently reading it
Only read novella Hadji Murat so far, a deceptively simple tale. Written at end of his life, when T. was professing to reject art for art's sake, HM is actually quite clevery crafted in a way to reveal T's sympathies for HM and his anitpathies for many of his fellow Russians, especially the Tsar, who comes off as pompous buffoon (no wonder he refused to publish in his lifetime!). More impressive is T's ability to zoom in on a small lyrical detail with the briefest sketch that nonetheless illumin ...more
Jul 15, 2015 Omnific9 rated it really liked it
Tolstoy is a master of describing emotions. In each of these short stories the picture of man's inner struggle and his gradual change is realistic and superb. However, Tolstoy suffers from a general lack of plot, which hurts the depth of his stories.
John M.
Dec 17, 2015 John M. rated it it was amazing
Read Hadji Murat and re-read The Death of Ivan Illych. Both are among Tolstoy's finest works. I especially enjoyed revisiting Ivan Illych which I read back in my early days of college at COA.
Michael Baranowski
Jan 14, 2016 Michael Baranowski rated it really liked it
If you're intimidated by 'War and Peace' (the best book I've ever read) but you want to get a sense of what Tolstoy is like, this would be a great place to start. The translation matters - I highly recommend Pevear and Volokhonsky.
Aug 24, 2015 Roger rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-group, fiction
A powerful piece of writing that sneaks up on you. Initially I was underwhelmed, but by the end found myself totally involved in the decile and death of Ivan Ilich.
Nov 22, 2012 Sean rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Tolstoy delivers masterpieces in the Death of Ivan Ilych, the Kreutzer Sonata, and Father Sergius, my three favorite stories in this book. I compare Tolstoy to Dostoyevsky and ultimately prefer Dostoyevsky. At times, Tolstoy rambles aimlessly, and I wonder why I invested the time in the first place. For instance, the firststoryin the book deals with a pilgrim on a sojourn to visit his mother. He gets captured and is then released. Why should I care? Tolstoy delves deeper in a few of his other st ...more
Jan 03, 2016 Travis marked it as to-read
The Death of Ivan Ilyich

Tolstoy's short story, The Death of Ivan Ilyich, tells about the life and death of Ivan Ilyich and the many questions he must ask himself before death. Ivan involves himself in judicial work, decides to marry (although not because he is in love, but because it is practical), and, ultimately distances himself from his family by being preoccupied with his job. On his death bed, Ivan realizes that he has not lived a meaningful life, even if he seemed to be at the time, and c
Dec 30, 2015 Noah rated it it was amazing
The key stories here are "The Death of Ivan Ilyich," "The Kreutzer Sonata," "Master and Man," and "Hadji Murat."
Jeff Lacy
Mar 24, 2016 Jeff Lacy rated it it was amazing
Elegant and sublime stories, thematic and philosophical.
Feb 21, 2013 Julie rated it really liked it
What a great opportunity, to read this marvelous new translation. I hadn't read these stories since college - twenty-odd years ago - and was once again amazed at the scope and breadth of his storytelling, the minute attention to detail, and the tension in his characters' lives between spiritual and physical, temporal and eternal. Pevear and Volokhonsky have translated many of the great Russian masters, so someday - Anna Karenina and War and Peace!
Katie Herring
Apr 18, 2014 Katie Herring rated it really liked it
I've just completed the whole anthology. I only had to read six of the eleven for class, and I read the remaining five on my own.

I really enjoyed the writing, while the plots weren't as interesting. There's a lot of meaning in each story, and it's really for the reader to take it as it is.

I'm going to try and tackle a Tolstoy novel next, although I do have another anthology with different stories that I'll read as well.
Mar 06, 2011 Richard rated it liked it
It's definite--I'm just not a Tolstoy guy. Some occasional insight about humanity that are quite wonderful, and I was most fond of the title story and "The Forged Coupon," but sometimes I find that he seems to be writing anthropology rather than literature, with good perspective on the relations of humans and their tribes, but without much investigation of the soul. Personal reaction only, of course.
Al Clark
Nov 14, 2012 Al Clark rated it it was amazing
Shelves: russian
This is the first Tolstoy I have read, and I can see why he's a giant. I found myself thinking about the characters when I wasn't reading - worrying about their predicaments, stressing and ruminating. I tend to read non-fiction, and this was an unexpected development. For practical reasons, this might be a good book to use as an introduction (as it has been for me) to Tolstoy's work.
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Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russian: Лев Николаевич Толстой; commonly Leo Tolstoy in Anglophone countries) was a Russian writer who primarily wrote novels and short stories. Later in life, he also wrote plays and essays. His two most famous works, the novels War and Peace and Anna Karenina, are acknowledged as two of the greatest novels of all time and a pinnacle of realist fiction. Many consider To ...more
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