'Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories' by Leo Tolstoy
Death of Ivan Ilyich and Other Stories
By Leo Tolstoy

My mother named me after Tolstoy—in Ukraine he's called Lev Tolstoi—so I knew that eventually I'd have to read his work. I discovered this story about Ivan Ilyich, a midlevel Russian bureaucrat, when I was 16. It's about his inability to relate to his own family, anyone at work, or even himself. It's such an intelligent and compassionate exploration of a man's life. In middle age, Ilyich becomes physically ill and his body starts to deteriorate. What I love is that the stages of his death are a life in themselves. In recognizing death, in fact, Ilyich discovers a truth about life. Having been utterly disconnected from people, he finds a closeness with a peasant who sits with him unfailingly through his last nights. The comfort and understanding he finds in their simple exchanges—that was eye-opening. You come away from this story with an appreciation for how precious individual moments can be.


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