The Death of Ivan Ilych (Tolstoy)

I have no use for the word novella. The distinction has always seemed arbitrary to me. I’ve seen this referred to as a short novel, so I’m sticking with that.

As human beings, we tend to want things to have a logic to them. And they often don’t. In response, we are inclined to create systems (religion?) that overlay logic onto that which we can’t explain. Ivan Ilych is dying – slowly and painfully. This doesn’t make sense to him. He thinks he has lived his life well, though Tolstoy’s arch tone makes it clear that he does not approve of Ilych, his family, or his social and professional circles. They are superficial. And in his last few days of life, Ilych figures that out and utters his last words, “It is finished.” Those around him at the end think the “it” means his life. But we realize that death, which becomes an increasingly assertive character throughout this short novel, is finished. It has no more power over his mind. He is ready to let go. And so he does.

This was a quick and worthwhile read. It asks the ultimate question: how are you living your life?


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