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Doing Something During Quarantine - Day Two

To do: Read and write a review of The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy.


What I will need: A copy of The Death of Ivan Ilych


When Salman, my friend, suggested this book, the first thing that struck me was the name of the main character. It reminded me of someone I used to know, and that simple fact was enough to take me back in time. It is surprising how extraordinarily little it takes for us to go diving into our past. And how once we are there, we unknowingly spend hours swimming against those memory tides, tiring ourselves out.


The Death of Ivan Ilych is a small book with only 12 chapters and 76 pages. It was originally written in Russian by Leo Tolstoy. I read the English translated copy by Louise and Aylmer Maude.

As the name suggests, the central theme of this book is death; the death of Ivan Ilych, a high-court judge.


The book brilliantly takes you through Ivan’s life: his youth, his love life, his career, his downfall both professional and personal, and his rise from the ashes. But it does not stop there. It does not end saying he eventually died. It, instead, takes you to his death bed. You watch as he suffers in pain from his illness, is filled with guilt from his past, is filled with hatred for his wife and daughter who do not truly seem to care.


Being at a stage where he cannot, physically, do anything else, Ivan starts to look back on the 45 years of his life. Staring at death, which is just inches away from him, he reminisces his childhood days. He believes then that the only time he was genuinely happy was during his childhood, whose tastes and smells he still remembers. He thinks about all the happiness depleting from his life, little by little, as he moved away from childhood into adulthood. Having acquired a beautiful wife, a much-coveted job, a house that he spent days setting up, he is now on a sofa feeling alone and unhappy.


At many instances, he wishes wholeheartedly that the doctor will cure him of his illness. He even manages to talk himself into getting well. But, not for long. He finally accepts the fact that he is going to die and slowly gets over his fear of death. So much so that in the end it is not death that he sees but a bright light. “What joy!” he exclaims! Shortly after, he dies.


While I was reading the book, I was constantly bothered by the thought of how I would react if I knew I was dying. Would I be afraid? Would I be happy? Would I be content? I hope when I reach my end, I will exit this world a happy and content person. And, I realize now is when I should be happy and content. Because nobody knows when death will arrive.

The book is somber and beautiful, and I highly recommend it. I did not want to write much about the book and go into many details because I do not want to spoil it for anyone wanting to read it. I hope I have not given a lot away. I am sorry if I have! I am sure the book has a lot to offer to anyone who reads it. You might view things differently than I did. So, please do read The Death of Ivan Ilych and share your views on it.

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