I’ve never read anything by Leo Tolstoy, but I have been burdened to read more classics so I thought a Novella would be a great place to start.
I was nervous when I started reading it and I was reading a bunch of Russian names and I feared the rest of the book would be too hard to follow with all the similar-sounding, but different Russian names. Turns out that wasn’t a problem at all once you got past the first couple of pages.
The book is essentially about a guy Ivan Ilyich who lives the life we all dream of having. He’s rich, loves his job. Has a wife and a few kids. But he ends up dying. The story starts off at his funeral, then jumps back to the beginning of the story in chapter 2, and goes to his death to the end of the book.
The bulk of the book after his life-ending injury is spent reevaluating his life choices that lead to his current circumstances.
“The past history of Ivan Ilyich’s life had been straightforward, ordinary and dreadful in the extreme.”
I loved that quote. It summed up a lot of his problems later on. He felt like he did everything correctly. He went to the good schools and took the jobs that gave him raises and did the work that he was ‘supposed to do’ so that he could have the life he thought was successful. He spends the rest of the book reaping the seeds that he sewed to get that life.
“And so they began life in their new abode, where, as always happens with people who have recently settled in, they found themselves just one room short, and their new income wouldn’t quite run to it, though it was a matter of 500 roubles or so.”
My group of friends is going through a lot of life changes and there have been a lot of moving houses with them. All of them are moving up in house. One friend before fully moving in was complaining about how they were going to need more space. A different friend was talking about extending his house some in order to add another bathroom.
A lot of my friends have moved up in house and once their income comes up they magically find ways to use it even though they were getting by just fine without that income before.
Key Take aways
This book made you think about what’s important in life. I guess that’s why it’s a classic and has been around for well over 100 years. The story is a man’s search for meaning knowing his death is coming. There comes a point where he knows he is going to die, but he is trying to figure out if the life he lived was the life you should live.
He had everything by material standards. He was living the dream and most people would agree with that. But on his deathbed, he realizes that he really didn’t live the life you should live. I mean the guy didn’t have a single friend at his funeral. Just a bunch of work associates. And they weren’t all that happy to be there. You can also tell the sadness in how his family talks to him after he is ill and he’s more of an inconvenience than anything else. It’s just awkward to be around him. Even though he did everything he was supposed to do by our standards today. He had the nice job, the wife, the social life, the everything. But when it mattered, none of his friends cared about him.