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The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy (1886).Read about all five titles on Groopman's list.
With fine brush strokes, Tolstoy paints the portrait of an ambitious and upwardly mobile magistrate, Ivan Ilyich, who suddenly comes down with a mysterious malady. The restrained prose works to amplify a chilling message: Severe illness strips away life's façade and forces us to examine our inner core. Ilyich, at the cusp of death, realizes that he has squandered his life by pursuing what is insubstantial. But Tolstoy affirms that while there may no longer be hope for the body, there is, until the last breath, hope for the soul. It is a lesson best learned while still healthy.