by Leo Tolstoy
Prior to reading this novella, I’d read just two books by the great Russian writer, Leo Tolstoy. Tolstoy’s gargantuan War and Peace was, in my humble opinion, much more entertaining in its “peace” parts than in its “war” parts. I remember thinking Anna Karenina was very, very good … but I recall absolutely nothing about the story. (In my defense, it has been many years since I read these books.)
I suspect that The Death of Ivan Ilyich, weighing in at less than 80 pages, will stick with me much longer than will the two Tolstoy magnum opuses.
The story is simple, yet concentrated and vivid. In it, a Russian judge develops an incurable illness and then slowly and oh-so painfully, expires. That’s it. Yet Tolstoy successfully puts the reader in bed with poor Ivan and forces us to endure all his pains, physical and psychological.
The big question that Tolstoy asks us to ponder is whether there is truth in Socrates’s dictum, “the unexamined life is not worth living.”
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