cover image The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession

The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Confession

Leo Tolstoy, trans. from the Russian by Peter Carson. Norton/Liveright, $23.95 (192p) ISBN 978-0-87140-426-8

This wonderful modern edition of Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich appears side by side with the autobiographical Confession in a new translation by Peter Carson—perhaps even more remarkable for having been completed as Carson, a famed editor and previous translator of works by Turgenev and Chekhov, was himself dying. Still preserved is Tolstoy’s stripped-down late style and the startlingly unsentimental treatment of the bourgeois prosecutor Illyich’s narrow and unremarkable life, his recognition of his own waning mortality (the “fraud concealing both life and death”), and his painful end. And yet the translation brings realism not only to Ivan’s psychology, but to the vivid world that survives him. Death has seldom been more starkly or plainly rendered, and the bleakness of Ivan’s revelation that “life is nonsense” is answered by Confession, Tolstoy’s own testament of a new life. A classic work of memoir and theology, the record of Tolstoy’s childhood loss of faith, dissolute youth, and slow return to a reasoned spiritualism still has the power to inspire reverence: “If a man lives, then he believes in something.” Among the best treatments of death and belief in any art form, The Death of Ivan Ilyich and Confession should be read together; a generous remembrance of Peter Carson by Mary Beard and a note comparing past translations complement an accomplishment in literature that belongs in every library. (Nov.)