Book Notes: "The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession" by Leo Tolstoy

The Death of Ivan Ilyich and ConfessionThe Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession by Leo Tolstoy

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a well-planned and executed translation and companioning of Tolstoy's novella and his non-fiction Confession. Although the introduction and notes on the translation lean one towards such a conclusion, that it does what it says it will do makes it all the more satisfying. The novella focuses on vanity and death while Confession documents Tolstoy's grappling with the meaning of life. I am drawn to Proverbs 19:3 by this book: "The foolishness of a man twists his way, And his heart frets against the Lord."

I could hear Hemingway denouncing Fitzgerald for exposing his personal weaknesses in The Crack Up. Yet at the same time, it was interesting to read the inner ruminations of a literary great. That Tolstoy finds solace in aspects of Christianity should not take away from the different approaches to thinking about life and its meaning that he outlines for those who may be navel-gazing such topics. I couldn't help but think of my own way of, I suppose, finding peace in the way of Larry in Maugham's The Razor's Edge, in that I believe that without faith, there is no point. So without faith, life is meaningless. My thoughts here echo Tolstoy's in that he looks for a rational explanation but finds only 0=0, which is no explanation at all. Looking beyond the rational seems to be key, and reconsidering my own philosophical meanderings in the light Tolstoy's confessing was certainly food for thought.

This is an excellent pairing of the works of a master, post the glory days of Anna Karenina (which he later regarded as an abomination).

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