This famous work by Leo Tolstoy was one of the masterpieces of his late fiction, written shortly after his religious conversion of the late 1870s. Such is the power of this novel that it was acclaimed by both Vladimir Nabokov and Mahatma Gandhi as the greatest in the whole of Russian literature.
The novel tells the story of the life and death, at the age of 45, of a high-court judge in 19th-century Russia - a miserable husband, proud father, and upwardly-mobile member of Russia's professional class, the object of Tolstoy's unremitting satire. Living what seems to be a good life, his dreadful relationship with his wife notwithstanding, Ivan Ilyich Golovin bangs his side while putting up curtains in a new apartment intended to reflect his family's superior status in society.
Within weeks, he has developed a strange taste in his mouth and a pain that will not go away. Numerous expensive doctors - friends of friends of friends - are visited in their surgeries or called to the judge's bedside, but beyond muttering about blind gut and floating kidneys, they can neither explain nor treat his condition, and it soon becomes clear that Ivan Ilyich is dying.
The second half of the novel records his terror as he battles with the idea of his own death. "I have been here. Now I am going there. Where?... No, I won't have it!"
Oppressed by the length of the process, his wife, daughter, and colleagues - even the physicians - decide not to speak of it, but advise him to stay calm and follow doctors' orders, leaving him to wrestle with how this terrible thing could befall a man who has lived so well. The remarkable ending is something that will stay with you forever.
Public Domain (P)2011 Hudson Audio Publishing