Friday, May 30, 2008

Tolstoy and Ivan


I have been reading Tolstoy. His book, The Death of Ivan Ilych, is serving as my introduction to his work. To say that I love it would be an understatement, his writing is so pure, so true to human emotion, that putting myself in the protagonist's shoes is accomplished without me so much as trying. The story follows Ivan Ilych, a man who has lived a successful life as a prominent judge in a small town in Russia. He has a family, friends, a good reputation and money. In short, he is happy. In fact, the first few chapters end with various statements emphasizing his comfort, such as: "and everything went on in this way without change, and everything was very nice." Obviously, Ilych's story eventually takes a turn for the worse, as he becomes terminally ill and begins the brutal process of dying slowly, painfully. The book chronicles his thoughts and emotions as he confronts the inevitable prospect of death; a death he deems to be unjust, unprecedented and ultimately unbelievable. The revelation that proves perhaps the most telling is, just before Ilych dies, he comes to the understanding that he has, contrary to what his peers believe, wasted his life on trivial pursuits. In one telling instance, Ilych begins to see life, “As though I had been going steadily downhill, imagining that I was going uphill. So it was in fact. In public opinion I was going uphill, and steadily as I got up it life was ebbing away from me...And now the work’s done, there’s only to die.” Throughout the story Ilych wrestles fiercely with a dichotomy, one side of which says that he has lived his life well, respectably, comfortably, without major error; and the other is a nagging sense that, somehow despite this success he hasn’t lived his life as he should. To peer into Ilych’s mind as he wrestles with these ideas is intense, and at the same time it feels like a privilege and a warning that must be heeded at the risk of grave consequence. Tolstoy is eloquent, formal, and at the same time remarkably informal in his description of a simple man meeting his reluctant end. This book was a great read.

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2 comments:

Jorge said...

Hello friend: it wanted invitarte that you visit blog that I am making with my students of second year of the secondary one on the DISCRIMINATION.
http://nodiscrimine.blogspot.com
arduous and interesting Subject.
Surely it will be of your affability.
We invited to you that you read what pleases of him and makes an opinion on he himself.
Its contribution will be valuable.
In blog it will find a translator of the page in several languages if he needs it.
A hug from Argentina.

Jared said...

I am excited to read it.

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