Daniel Pecheur's Reviews > The Death of Ivan Ilyich
The Death of Ivan Ilyich
by Leo Tolstoy
by Leo Tolstoy
Wow is my first expression upon having finished my first Tolstoy- his novella The Death of Ivan Ilyich, which the Russian master wrote after a religious conversion. Tolstoy is a master of fine details and resplendent subtlety. The work is a meditation on the human condition as Tolstoy saw it, tinged by Christian asceticism, in the case of the title character and all those around him who have succumbed to the spiritual decay of living in monochromatic conformity with the values and the superficialities approved by the professional class society. Under the rubric of those values, which Tolstoy staunchly rejected and satirized, Ivan Ilyich lived a life that seemed exemplary, ostensibly complete and commendable. Ilyich spent his adult life walking in perfect lockstep with the customs of the social order, advancing through various official positions and marrying well and having a family in the fashion that everyone in his class would deem befitting and proper. On the surface, his life was good and he had fulfilled his duties with appropriate rigor. In the midst of his death, everyone who surrounded Ilyich in his life can only think about their own selfish needs and desires and find satisfaction in simply not being the one who died. Their attitudes typify the meaninglessness and emptiness of a lifestyle unfurnished by any spiritual growth and pivoted entirely around what is material and socially validated. The reader experiences Ivan Ilyich's slow death with him, and feels all the stinging nuances of his excruciation in his waning physique and his slow psychological recognition of the inevitable death that subjugates him. No other story has so forcefully communicated the impression of death or transported my imagination so vividly into the gripping terror of feeling death's clutches draining life. Very well wrought with sensational descriptions of feelings and suffering in an ingenious subtlety of story-telling. Ilyich is at last enlightened to the deepest truth of life in facing death, at first with the denial that his life has been wasted, until the sickening awareness of an all-pervading falsity that he sees in everything around him compells him to the redemption of his final acceptance. Light vanquishes the darkness with hope and Tolstoy ends this tale of death in its harrowing succession of phases (encompassed by a life that is void of spiritual sustenance) with the salvation of a final peace. Tolstoy is an artist as a storyteller and he meticulously guides his reader through the slow deterioration and anguish of Ivan Ilyich with such painstaking details and fervor that one is drawn skin-deep into the struggle of Ivan Ilyich, empathizing with it as a universal experience of the human consciousness carrying the unfathomable weight of death's conquest. A brilliant and powerful work.
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