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Tolstoy: The Death of Ivan Ilyich Master and Man

4.03  ·  Rating details ·  726 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
In these two famous short novels, Leo Tolstoy takes readers to the brink of despair. At the end of life worldly ambition offers no consolation for the spiritually empty soul. But Tolstoy is the master of themes of redemption. He turns his morbid topic into hope, leading toward spiritual awakening. Tolstoy offers his readers a lifetime of perspective on a most human subject
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Published September 1st 2005 by Hovel Audio (first published 1866)
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May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Review can also be found at Snow White Hates Apples.

Rating: 3.5 stars

Although set in 19th century Russia, The Death of Ivan Ilyich is a short story that still resonates today. Of course, this is primarily due to the subjects it deals with—things humans continue to be curious about: the state of death and the act of dying. Or, more saliently, the effects of death and dying on the person who is dying and his/her surroundings.

Funerals are, I believe, for the living and not the dead. Every time I
Jun 04, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: hs-ap-adult
In general, I don't care for Depressing, Fatalistic Russian Literature, but this I liked. The story begins with the news of Ivan Ilyich's death and then it goes back in time telling about his life and his slow torturous death. I explores how we live to expectations of society only to realize we haven't lived well. It's a story very well told. I am not sure how well it would play for the middle school set, but it is a great introduction to Depressing, Fatalistic Russian Literature without having ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ebook
I'll be reading this book as part of Leland Ryken's "Commending the Classics" series on The Gospel Coalition's website (first installment found here:
Reading the tale, Master and Man, seems appropriate in the midst of winter. Tolstoy wrote this tale about a decade after The Death of Ivan Ilych and Winter cold is so important in the story that it becomes yet another character by the end of this sophisticated parable. Snow and biting winds gust from its pages. Its climactic event, the transferal of heat from one body to another, has a resonance that cannot be denied, but my question would be: can it be believed?

The story begins just following t
Martin Raybould
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two short stories about death that remind you how precious and fragile life is.
May 27, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This took way too long to finish and not sure if it was worth it, but I'm glad I at least got through it.
Jun 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2010
Review from June 2010:
[Yay! Er...not sure if I should say Yay to a story about death.I'd never read Tolstoy before, so I thought I'd give him a try. My intended minor (whenever I get to transfer...) is Russian & Slavic Culture, so I might as well start now. I chose these two stories because one appears on the 1001 list, and it jumped out at me at the library!I'm not sure if all Russian literature is like this, but these two short stories were heavy. Full of weight (thanks for this mode of
Mar 17, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There is a Easter fable, told a long time ago, about a traveler caught in open country by a wild beast. To escape from the beast the traveler jumps into a dry well, but at the bottom of the well he sees a dragon with its jaws open to devour him. And the unfortunate man, not daring to climb out lest he be destroyed by the wild beast, and not daring to jump to the bottom of the well lest he be devoured by the dragon, seizes hold of a branch of a wild bush growing in a crack in the well and clings ...more
Anshul Gaurav
Jun 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What if one fine day you wake up and realise you are dying? This happens to you, a high flyer, well settled , of a respectable background, a normal worldly careerist who had never given the inevitability of his death so much so as a passing thought.

'The Death of Ivan Ilyich' is a portrait of a man miserable on realization that in he would be no more than a hung portrait in the hall, a name on the gravestone, or a passing thought in his kin's mind. 'What if', he recounts, 'my entire life, my enti
Mar 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

The Death of Ivan Ilyich.

Shocking and disturbingly startling!! That’s what I felt about this book. How can “the process of death” be made so gripping? Leo Tolstoy, a master with words, did it. The subject may be dry, the story may be slow once in a while, but we will excuse everything. We will move along with the terrifying and the gripping emotions, questions and answers that Ivan Ilyich finds along the way.

An entire life, supposedly lived well according to Ilyich, came crumbling down like a p
Aug 24, 2015 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The Death of Ivan Ilyich was rather dull. Yes, I can see that the titular character is fairly shallow and that those around him are largely uncaring of his suffering, but not only was the lack of action and repetition of his physical complaints boring, but he hardly qualified as "evil" and thus deserving of his guilt over a wasted life, as Tolstoy strongly implied. "Master and Man" was quite interesting as I empathized with Nikita, the servant who sets out in a snowstorm with his boss, to seal a ...more
Apr 27, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Loved both stories, especially how the first dealt with the notion of how realising one's own death makes us reflect on a life well lived, or realise with horror one that is not. This translation seems more...modern than some I've read - maybe in the use of words or style. Overall a succinct introduction to Tolstoy (since I'm deciding whether it would be a suitable read for a thirteen year old acquaintance); the length, speed and flow are perfect. The footnotes would be much better were they pri ...more
Lakshmi Narasimhan
for those who are going to die, for those who are dying and for those who are there in their mother's womb, you death is a already fixed, one who is getting old, from busy job during mid life to a hollow,directionless,failing body in the old age. apart from death the waiting kills so much, tolstoy has captured the intricacies of old age, i remember my grandfather who suffered 3 months at a stretch to leave his body, and to my other grand father who is presently in his last stage of life struggli ...more
Ellyn Lem
Feb 08, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A sign of a good book is one that can be read over and over without it losing its power. This is one of those books. . . no wonder some medical schools have their residents read the novella to understand the various emotions people go through when they are dying. Tolstoy wrote a masterful work filled with insights not only from the perspective of the person coming to the end of life but how others react to him. It remains powerful.
Aug 13, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Douglas Adams wrote in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe of a torture device that would confront a person viewing it with "just one momentary glimpse of the entire unimaginable infinity of creation." The vortex, in showing the viewer just how temporary he is an eternal universe, is traumatic enough to drive the viewer permanently mad.

Tolstoy's writing has, more or less, this same effect.
Sarah Knox
Jun 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It is difficult to rate this story. Tolstoy is masterful and devastating and as a reader you can feel the absolute anguish of Ivan Ilyich's death. All these things considered, this story is still approximately one-hundred pages of a man dying while his family sits idly by, basically hoping for the process to come to a conclusion. It is sad, it is terrifying and it really slaps you in the face with the reality of death, but it is also powerful and uplifting in its own dark way.
Neil Grey
Jan 07, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Morbid yet intensely quieting, both stories plunge headfirst into your psyche, giving an enlightening view on the value of life from the edge of death. While we don't necessarily think ourselves immortal, it's not often we consider just how mortal we really are until faced with death. What questions and doubts about our lives would we ask if we knew death were upon us? What do we value and why?
Alesh Houdek
Mar 07, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Two little novellas. A nice introduction, though I always worry about whether the translation I'm reading is as good as it could be. There are footnotes, too, though I'm not sure why they think skipping to the back of the book all the time is fun. Why not put them at the bottom of the page?

Anyway, I wanted an intro to Tolstoy and this was perfect: somber, heavy, and rich.
Feb 23, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Amazing how relevant this book still is in modern day considering it was published in 1886. It's a reasonably short story and has a fantastic message that forces you to consider how you are living your life. "Begin with the end in mind" ~ Stephen Covey
Jun 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Good introduction to Leo Tolstoy. Felt almost like a prequel to "Anna Karenina" at times, but that is due to the time period, class and location of the novel. Another good book to get you thinking about how you want to live -- maybe before you are on your deathbed.
Jul 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"It could only be explained if one could say I hadn't lived as I should. But that is quite inadmissable.", he said to himself, remembering his law-abiding, correct, and proper life. "To accept that would be quite impossible," he said to himself... "There is no explanation!"
Dec 06, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very profound, extremely well-written, incredibly depressing pair of stories. It was good to get Tolstoy in brief, after two doorstops a decade ago - the forgettable War & Peace and the Top 5 All-Time Anna Karenina.
Jul 19, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
i know he is a titan, but not a huge fan. he is far more depressing that dostoevsky. and his theology is whacked
Jul 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
damn. tolstoy is timeless: he can speak to any audience across time and space. these two stories are so impressive.
Feb 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Master and Man is by far my favorite Tolstoy short story. Death of Ivan Ilyich is right up there as well.
the process of letting go is harder for some. death is a solo activity. you can't take it with you. no rest for the weary.
and this edition has a great cover.

this was my second reading.
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A perfect story. I picture Jonathan Franzen reading this once every year, then draining a tall glass of tequila and crying himself to sleep.
I'm pretty ambivalent about this one. It's short and easy to read but I didn't really connect in any significant way.
Timm DiStefano
Might have fit me more in high school but is too dark for me right now.
Oct 18, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Book club selection that I really didn't like. We only read Ivan Ilyich but the depression was overwhelming as I read.
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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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