Saturday, April 01, 2006

Book Review: Leo Tolstoy - The Death of Ivan Ilych


I know the very mention of Leo Tolstoy brings to mind the epic book War and Peace, which then makes people think how impossible and boring it'd be to try and get through such a thick book. Trust me, Tolstoy is worth the read. His work standing the test of time isn't an accident. People wearing tweed jackets do not sit around in a room stroking their beards wondering what dry dusty novels can they force people to read. Tolstoy's wring is beautiful and yes it is epic, but flows with the poetry of life that that is natural and timeless. I admit getting past the Russian names can be a trial so I want to recommend The Death of Livan Ilych. It's a short book, very short, only about 60 pages. He doesn't waste a lot of time and cuts to the chase. A man dies and he spends the rest of the book talking about how Ivan goes about his lfie trying to live with as much comfort and ease as possible until he gets sick and life becomes difficult. I will warn you, this is a very very depressing book. How Tolstoy describes people's reaction to Ivan's illness and death ranges from sadness, self-indulgence, and even denial. This is how it is. It is real, he didn't sugar coat it. He shows what it is really like. This was what it was like as I watched my mother pass away. People who know her acted in such a deplorable fashion, but aquaintances stepped up and did whatever they could to help and give her and my family comfort. As a Christian I think life is sacred, but I often wonder if the people on both sides of the Chaivo case were ever able to look past their own rhetoric to the big picture. For one, who would care for her if she had lived? Second, why be so anctious to let her die when you can just as easily move on with your life as if nothing had happened? Have any of them had to change an adult diaper? Argue with someone to take their meds or fought to keep people who weren't welcome out of the home? No, to all of them this was a philosophic exercize that they can step away from without getting their hands dirty. This book fills in the gaps that all of them are missing. It shows where their thinking was flawed and the decision to live or die is not as easy as they may think. Before my mother took a turn for the worse we were watching a program on hospice and death and dying, this book was required reading, and she asked if I would help her to die if she wanted it. That question still haunts me to this day.

posted by Out Of Jersey | 3:12 PM

4 Comments:

Blogger Katie said...

i'm a fan of tolstoy, but only because of high school english

I'll have to add this to my reading list

and your last sentence is haunting, it makes me sad to think you had to ponder this

12:53 PM  
Blogger Cate said...

Oh, CR, I'm sorry, too, that you've had to ponder this. I can't even imagine how painful that kind of decision would be.

Thank you for sharing your impressions re: Tolstoy. Never read a thing by him, but now, I'm going to have to.

P.S. Loving "Other Voices" by the way.

1:10 PM  
Blogger Shesawriter said...

Tolstoy was the bane of my existence in college, but now I'm interested. Go figure.

3:15 PM  
Blogger The Cubicle Reverend said...

Katie,
It's a question I hope no one ever has to be asked. I spared my response and the ultimate conversation as a result.

Catie,
I thought you'd like that book. It is such a painful, but beautiful read.

Tanya,
This'll make you a fan. It is a lot more accessable than his other work.

5:19 PM  

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