Ivan Ilyich, a 45 year old high court judge in 19th century Russia, successful in mostly worldly terms faces the reality of death. It happened on one of the normal days in his life of pride when Ivan Ilyich bumped himself while hanging up draperies. To his horror, the fall proved fatal and he could not be cured and soon it became clear that he was dying. He had spent an immaculate life so far in the eyes of the world but he was dying now. He was highly praised in social circles but finds himself spiritually depraved towards his end. He moans day and night with pain and feels the guilt of having lived a life that is now disillusioned and coming to an end. Friends and family are indifferent to the dying man. The dying serve no purpose to the living. Ivan Ilyich contemplates his wasted life, the childhood spent in chasing idols, the youth exhausted in achieving, an unhappy marriage with Praskovya Fyodorovna, all appears unworthy to him today. Death comes closer and Ivan Ilyich screams with pain and guilt incessantly for three days. He finds himself being drawn into a black hole. But just as the thread of life is breaking, something shines at the end of the black hole. And the dying man feels that what had oppressing him is fleeting. An understanding dawns upon him, he feels no fear, he sees light, and he sees bliss!! The heart wrenching depiction of Ivan Ilyich's last days repenting his wasted life has been a spiritual awakening for many a generation. The story of a successful man of the world who lived with no plans of death.
The book ends a crisis of faith in the life of Tolstoy himself. Count Leo Tolstoy got wild fame with the publication of Anna Karenina in 1870s. But, then came a gloomy period of introspection for Tolstoy when he searched the meaning of life, pain and death as he lost three of his own children. The Death of Ivan Ilyich was penned by Count Leo Tolstoy in the 1880s, inspired by the death of a provincial judge Ivan Ilyich Mechnikov.
The writing has been devoid of Tolstoy's rich prose, as he yearns to portray a man who finds himself despicable at the end of his life."Yes, life was there and now it's going, going, and I can't hold on to it. Yes. Why deceive myself?"
The Death of Ivan Ilyich makes you stop, it makes you reason against your convictions of life. Is a life with no thought of death wasted? Is a spiritual quest indispensable? This treatise of death and dying brings the reader face to face with his own mortality, because like Ivan Ilyich we will die too.
Book Reviewed by Khitish Kakar
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