Leo Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich / The Devil

Two compelling short works by the Russian master
Leo Tolstoy. Portrait: Gay Nikolay Nikolayevich (1884, The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
If War and Peace is just too long for you, The Guardian website's Nicholas Lezard offers an easier way to get acquainted with Tolstoy's work. He recommends two shorter tales: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Devil, recently published in a twin-edition by Oneworld. Lezard dramatically describes the first of these stories as 'probably his best-known work after War and Peace – and with good reason. It is one of the most lacerating works of literature ever written, a hard, pitiless stare into the abyss, not just of death, but of human nature. It is one of those works that's essential: not because reading it means you can tick off a cultural milestone [...], but because without it you're missing part of the picture of what it means to be human'. Lezard goes on to wonder whether 'Beckett's Malone Dies was written as a comic counterpoint to this work – light relief, as it were'. [Read More]

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