"So you say that man cannot understand what's good and what's bad on his own, that it's all a matter of the environment, that he's a prey to the environment. But I think it's all a matter of chance. Here, I'll tell you about myself."Those opening lines to Leo Tolstoy's short story "After the Ball" had me rolling my eyes and thinking I wasn't going to get very far with the story, but I was wrong. Ivan Vassilievich's description of a ball, the exquisitely beautiful woman he fell in love with, and her father, the colonel, drew me in immediately.
I did not look up until ten pages later when, at dawn after the ball, Ivan witnesses a brutal military act involving the colonel. He claims this chance incident changed the course of his life.
"So, do you think I decided then that what I had seen was a bad thing? Not a bit of it. 'If it was done with such assurance and was acknowledged by everyone as necessary, it means they know something that I don't know,' I thought and tried to find it out. And not having found it out, I could not enter military service, as I had wanted before, and not only did not serve in the military, but did not serve anywhere and, as you see, have been good for nothing."Ivan's love for the beautiful girl also dwindled away, because thoughts of her invariably lead to recollections of the colonel. This story will cause you to stop and think.
Anna Karenina is my only previous experience with Tolstoy. I read it around the time Oprah selected it for her book club, and can remember sitting in the bookstore comparing two translations before finally choosing Pevear & Volokhonsky. Prior to that day, translation never really seemed important to me.
The Death of Ivan Ilyich & Other Stories. It was recently released in paperback by Vintage Classics, and I was lucky to receive the extra review copy sent to my daughter's college newspaper. It seems perfect for winter reading.
"After the Ball" can be read online, but in an older translation.
Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.