Sophie’s Choice

ISBN: 0553209671
ISBN 13: 9780553209679
By: William Styron

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About this book

In this ambitious bestseller (made into a major motion picture starring Meryl Streep), Styron tells of a young Southerner who wants to become a writer; of the turbulent love-hate affair between a brilliant Jew and a beautiful Polish woman; and of an awful wound in the woman's past, one that impels Sophie toward destruction.

Reader's Thoughts


The query: "At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?"And the answer: "Where was man?”I do not dare write about suffering; dare not think that I have locked eyes with it, EVER. Whatever it is that I feel, when the skin of my complacency breaks open (to reveal what? just what?) is not, cannot be, suffering. Is it only when faced with the utterly incomprehensible, the indigestible that I can see the enormous smallness of my hurts. Is this true for all of us?Someday, I will understand Auschwitz.So says Stingo, the narrator of Sophie's Choice. While he does go on to mitigate the monumental presumption of this statement, it is telling. We think that our brief, ephemeral, for the most part cause-effect brushes with suffering give us an insider's view of someone else's. That we can attain comprehension by just adjusting the SCALE.I wish I could say that I was, until now, completely ignorant about the Holocaust. Ignorance is more redeeming than a claim to the kind of awareness that I had. I honestly think that the book was incidental, that any book about this topic would have had same effect on me: disbelief at such evil, followed by disbelief at the clockwork world, that can function, the way it does; that can forget, the way it does. Then I got on with my clockwork life. To function is to forget, and vice-versa. This much I understand. Read Sophie's Choice for Sophie, the survivor in a way and the victim in so many others. No matter how I felt about the rest of the book, Sophie, the Choice that was not a choice (anything but) will stay with me.

Aaron Mccloud

William Styron's "Sophie's Choice" has to stand as one of the 20th century's great American novels. Based very loosely on his own experiences in the late 1940s in New York, Styron makes himself into a writer called Stingo who moves into a boarding house in Brooklyn, where he meets a Polish emigré named Sophie and her dangerously unpredictable lover, Nathan. With great delicacy and restraint, Styron traces the evolution of the friendship and love that entangles these three and which has stunning consequences.For those who have only seen the 1985 movie starring Meryl Streep (and for which she deservedly won the Best Actress Oscar), do yourself a favor and read the book. The movie was indeed wonderful, but the book is so much richer and more detailed and Styron's mastery of this compelling narrative is marvelous to behold. For those who have NOT seen the film, you will assume that "Sophie's Choice" has to do with Nathan and Stingo. Heartbreakingly, it both does and does not.Styron has an incredible gift for injecting humor into dark situations. He makes Stingo an inordinately horny, frustrated, pained, wise-cracking man in his early 20s--Stingo leaps off the pages as fully formed and utterly human. Nathan too, in a much different way, is three-dimensional and fiery with life. Sophie is rendered in more delicate tones than the two men, which makes the final chapters of the book all the more powerful. We see what she has withstood and what she has given up and it is inescapably heartbreaking.The book's ending is utterly right and the inexorable product of all that has gone before it. Styron has taken an enormously complex panoply of subjects--young manhood, post-WWII New York, mental illness, obsession, guilt, and more--and structured them into one of the most un-put-downable novels you will ever read.

David Hughes

Nathan is brilliant, quite mad, and deeply in love with Sophie, the tortured Polish survivor of Auschwitz. Stingo, the young narrator and aspiring novelist from the South, travels to Brooklyn where he immediately falls under the couple's spell. The development of the story is the unraveling and sorting out among the lies and the truth of these two enigmatic people. Nathan loves Sophie but cannot control his need to punish her for the Gentile sins against the Jewish race. Sophie, consumed with guilt, accepts both Nathan's intense love and hatred because she needs and deserves it. Stingo falls in love with them both and struggles to save them from themselves and each other. The first time I read this book, I kept a dictionary nearby and referred to it frequently. The power of the prose matches the power of the story where we meet two unforgettable characters in Nathan and Sophie.An interesting anecdote about this great novel is that Gabriel Garcia Marquez recommended it to Fidel Castro who enjoyed it so much that he invited Styron to visit Cuba, an invitation Styron declined. Although it is impossible to say, pin me down, and I might declare this the finest novel I have ever read.


I am disappointed by this book. I had great expectations considering the contents of this story and I was upset that William Styron used "Sophie's Choice" as it's climax all the while filling the middle pages with fluff. And I use the word climax lightly.What the hell?!Sophie's Choice is about a Polish woman, Sophie, who is imprisioned at Auschwitz along with her two children. Upon arrival, she is forced to make a crushing choice that will forever plague her. However, you don't find out about this "choice" until 529 pages later with only 33 pages left. All the while, you learn about her life leading up to Auschwitz and her crazy and bizzare love for Nathan, her lover.Yes, a heart-wrenching story and one that I had placed off reading for some time due to the nature of the book, but it could have been something more. It SHOULD HAVE been something more. I expected it to be something more...more moving...more emotional. However, by the time our author developed the characters and allowed the reader to associate with each character, I found myself, not only loathing Sophie, but hoping the book would end a certain way so she would finally be placed out of her misery and mine as well. William Styron filled the pages in between with such adolescent bullshit that I often thought I was reading Playboy forum or something of the sort. An oversexed Polish woman, a drugged-out sadomasochistic Jewish lover, and a wet-dream of a 22 year old virgin couple that with Auschwitz, NO THANKS!I just changed my star rating from 3 to 2!


I read the last pages of this book in a bowling alley, humanity in its finest clinging to the ending of this book as surely as the overpowering cigarette smoke did.I can't help but think that this may be one of the best ways to finish this particular book, so fraught with the question of humanity as it is. A terrible sense of aloneness pervades this book, and I can't help but think that being surrounded by drinking, cursing men and women in bowling shoes really concentrated that lonelinesss for me.This book is a great one. Sure, if you are easily offended by sex or profanity, you want to pass this one by. If you are looking for a quick pick me up, then you should probably wait until next weekend to start turning the pages in this one. But, if you are at all interested in what it means to be confronted by the uttermost despair and the aftermath (dear god, the aftermath), then do yourself a favor and read this book.Styron's writing, humor, and gentle Southerness are all up to par in this one, folks. Read it and enjoy it.


When I finally finished reading this book, I gave it two stars. I am amending that to three. I liked it more than I thought that it was just okay. My initial two stars was mostly because I was just worn out from reading it, having to continually stop and look up all of the words that I did not know. That is not a bad thing for me, most of the time, but let me tell you, there were lots of words in this book to look up. LOTS! I could figure out the meaning, from the contents what most of them meant, but some were just so unknown for me. There were books and authors and music pieces and places mentioned throughout the story that I stopped and looked up too. The great thing about reading today is the access to the internet for all of it. There are You Tube videos of people singing and orchestras playing the music. Photos and encyclopedia entries are available to view all of the places and books and people mentioned. And then there was the story. It is an emotional story. There were parts that I was not sure I wanted to know about. There were events and people that were not nice. There were words that were uncomfortable to read. There were several very un-expected topics that I had never seen mentioned in any of the brief summaries that I had read. There were a few things even, that were funny – to me, at least. It was sad and shocking and I was glad it was over at the end.I did not do a lot of research into the story before I sat down to read it. I like to find things out for myself. This is what I enjoy about reading. I do not want to know everything about what is going to happen before I get there. I was not disappointed. I was annoyed with the author at times. There were things I felt that he could have left out, and much of it that I thought that he could have told differently. It was not my story to tell though – only mine to read. I did and I am glad.

Nathan Oates

I read this book at Amy's prompting and found it one of the most complex reading experiences of my life. At times, I hated this book: the elaborate, excessive prose style, the occasional and hideous homophobia (not excusable by it's placement in the consciousness of the character, in my opinion), the adolescent attitude toward women and sex (again, not excusable) and yet, despite all these moments of frustration, this is an immense and beautiful and even great novel. The writing about the holocaust is riveting, horrifying and heartbreaking (I felt like vomitting from horror once or twice, felt my stomach clenching many times). It is extremely rare to find a book that manages to evoke such a complex of emotions and responses over the course of 550 pages, and this is the book's triumph: even as it is about violence, despair, terror, madness and death, it contains more life, more beauty, more love and emotion than almost any book I have ever read. All it's flaws (and there are many) merely add to the complexity of the characters, the style, the subject. Contemporary writers should look to this book for evidence of the capacities of the novel to engage with life in all its muddled, vicious evil and find a way to make beauty from it.


So, here's a snippet of the book."Call me Stingo, which was the nickname I was known by in those days, if I was called anything at all. The name derives from my prep-school days down in my native state of Virginia. This school was a pleasant institution to which I was sent at fourteen by my distraught father, who found me difficult to handle after my mother died. Among my other disheveled qualities was apparently an inattention to personal hygiene, hence I soon became known as Stinky. But the years passed. The abrasive labor of time, together with a radical change of habits (I was in fact shamed into becoming almost obsessively clean), gradually wore down the harsh syllabic brusqueness of the name, slurring off into the more attractive, or less unattractive, certainly sportier Stingo. Sometime during my thirties the nickname and I mysteriously parted company, Stingo merely evaporating like a wan ghost out of my existence, leaving me indifferent to the loss. But Stingo I still was during this time about which I write. If, however, it is perplexing that the name is absent from the earlier part of this narrative, it may be understood that I am describing a morbid and solitary period in my life when, like the crazy hermit in the cave on the hill, I was rarely called by any name at all."The writing's just appalling. I don't care if it's supposed to be ironic or intended to echo Great Expectations, but I can't keep slogging through this. Stopped on page 15.


"The most profound statement about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response. The query: 'At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?' And the answer: 'Where was man?'"This has been one of the richest reading experiences of my life. Sophie's Choice is an ambitious book - it tells at least three stories, all interwoven so that you get a bit of each at the appropriate time and to greatest effect. It's philosophical - it's about the depths of evil, it's about love and death, it's about sex, great literature, sanity, etc. It's intensely sad, but not melodramatically. It's a Holocaust book, but better than Schindler's List or Elie Weisel, because Styron doesn't ask how man could be so evil or how God could let it happen. Because Styron knows that God was not there. And neither was man.

Laura Leaney

I love this novel. It was one of the few that transported me to a time and a place so completely that I lost my own self. The narrator, Stingo, says "I was aware of the large hollowness I carried within me. It was true that I had traveled great distances for one so young, but my spirit had remained land-locked, unacquainted with love and all but a stranger to death." He calls his journey to Brooklyn a "voyage of discovery" but I am verifiable proof that the discovery is not just his but ours. What is love? I think it is answered here. What is guilt? What is evil? What is joy? All answered. And answered to the music of words. I can never listen to "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" without thinking of Sophie. And of Stingo.

Anne Marie

I was in the local library last spring break (procrastinating from grading, etc), browsing a shelf of high school reading list books. I wanted to check something out as a reward for the work I was hopefully going to eventually do. I really love Deer Hunter-era Meryl Streep, and even though I've never seen Sophie's Choice, I vaguely remembered the movie coming out when I was a little girl, and Meryl being especially beautiful. I had also just finished The Book Thief and was feeling achy for another WWII-era book to take me back to the heart-wrenching I experienced. So I picked up Sophie's Choice. Let's just say that very little legit work got done for a while. I was obsessed with this book like no other I had read in a long time. What surprised me: - it's a book about the writer's life, Southern guilt about slavery, trying to articulate the unspeakable, class, resistance, the love of classical music, mental illness, psychoanalysis, what we do to kill our pain, humiliation, the possibility of redemption, motherhood, God - whatever you think it might be (stomach-turning scene of baby being wrested from mother's arms - it's there but by the time you actually read the words, you have so many other emotions ricocheting off your heart) it's beyond that. it was the kind of book i carried around with me for a few days even though i was done with it because I felt so close to Stingo, Nathan, and of course, Sophie...

Nadine Doolittle

Obviously, one star is a bit dramatic. I didn't like this book but it was beautifully written--Styron is no slouch with words--and the characters and situation were vividly drawn. The "choice" Sophie had to make was a hellish one and unlike some reviewers here, I was deeply affected and I thought it explained a lot about her character. By contrast the lives and issues of Stingo and Nathan seem thin and pathetic. Which they were. Which was the problem. A writer once said (I think it was Vonnegut) give your readers at least one character to root for. I couldn't root for any of the three main characters. Nathan was mentally ill, Stingo was insufferably self-absorbed. Even poor Sophie, (who was a brilliantly-realized character) was so without fight or self-respect by the time we meet her, that Stingo's banal lust for her bordered on necrophilia. I don't know. Perhaps in the context of post-War America and the self-hate citizens must have felt...perhaps this is a reflection of that time. Styron was suffering from manic-depression at the time he wrote it. I think that accounts for a great deal. I rarely throw books across the room. I threw this one.


This title is on the very shortest list of the best novels I've ever read. It starts inconspicuously as the remembrance of a young writer, Stingo, a graduate of Duke who has recently been discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps at the end of World War II and is living in New York. Stingo's twin goals are to find a way to score with women, and to write a book. He takes a room in a boarding house in Brooklyn, where he befriends fellow tenants Nathan Landau and his girlfriend Sophie Zawistowski. Nathan is an intellectual who claims to be a Harvard educated scientist. Sophie came to the United States as a war refugee, who has survived the Auschwitz prison camp in Poland.The book is very funny in parts, particularly when Stingo is recounting his attempted exploits with young women who don't ultimately provide him with the fulfillment of his fantasies. In one instance, he gloms onto Leslie Lapidus, a college student spending time at the beach during summer vacation, who curses like a sailor and therefore should welcome Stingo's advances, or so he schemes. What could possibly go wrong with this plan?The trio of boarders become close friends during the summer of '47. They all have unresolved issues which will gradually become known. Guilt is a common bond among them. Stingo is aware, as a native Virginian, that his ancestors owned slaves, and he decides to deal with his family history shame by writing a book about the 1830's slave rebellion led by Nat Turner. Nathan's friendliness and wit are interrupted at times by rage over the fate of his fellow Jews in Europe recently, and by his realization that he didn't do his part in fighting the Nazi's because mental health issues prevented him from joining the armed forces. Sophie shares the common fate of many death camp survivors who welcomed the chance for life when they were liberated from the camps, but continue to realize that they lived while so many of their relatives and friends perished. Nathan is actually a paranoid schizophrenic who is violent and abusive toward Sophie at times. His anger at these times is aggravated by the knowledge that Sophie is entitled to the status of a Holocaust victim while not being Jewish. She is a Roman Catholic Pole whose father was a Jew-hater. She was sent to Auschwitz for the crime of stealing food for her family to survive. She was able to avoid death in the camp by becoming a secretary to the Commandant.Nathan is also increasingly jealous of Stingo's adoring friendship with Sophie. Stingo actually increasingly lusts after Sophie and before the book is over, he will be able to make his feelings known to her while rescuing her from an angry Nathan. This is the point where Styron, through Sophie, describes the personal, daily loss of humanity and life prevalent in the World War II concentration camps. It is also the point where Stingo learns the secret which Sophie has been carrying for the last several years, a secret whose anguish is pushing her to the depths of depression. Stingo is a committed friend of Sophie in her time of need and hopes he saved her from self-destructing with Nathan. The book's ending will resolve the fates of these three friends.My recollection of the book's conclusion, even after a number of years, is of reading something so profound that it makes you stop for a minute and digest what just happened. It is the kind of reaction you can only experience from a book which is crafted with such skill, it makes you viscerally feel the impact of its conclusion. Styron, in my opinion, succeeds as a writer according to his own definition: "A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end." William Styron, 1925 to 2006, novelist and essayist, was born in Newport News, Virginia. He attended college before serving with the Marines during World War II. After the war, he enrolled in Duke University, graduating with a BA degree in English. He experienced his first writing success in 1951 with the novel "Lie Down in Darkness." Before "Sophie", he was best known for his controversial novel "The Confessions of Nat Turner", 1967. His critical acclaim grew significantly with the publishing of "Darkness Visible", 1990, about his decades-long descent into depression.

Klint Kratzer

Sophie's Choice is such a rich novel, tying together three scenes and stories. From the bucolic Virginia countryside, through the streets of 1940s NYC and the journey of the protagonist into and out of the perdition of Auschwitz, Styron re-enters the defining moment of the century in the nascent epi-center of Western culture (NYC). This novel will make you cry with laughter and sorrow.It is, overall, the journey of one woman on her final sojourn towards life- it is a tale of things that are worse than death. And yet it left me hopeful, respectful of the horrors I have not had to witness. It is an excellent entry into the canon of the Southern Gothic, while reminiscent of Styron's first novel's (Lie Down in Darkness) depiction of New York City. The images of political struggles in Poland under Nazi occupation are unique and inspiring.As someone who has lived in both the South and Poland, I found Styron's writing, simply put, precise. The fluidity to traverse the polemics of the world (antisemitism in Europe, slavery in America) make Styron one of the greats. Having finished reading all of Styon's major works, Sophie's Choice stands out, unparalleled. I would definitely recommend reading Lie Down in Darkness first!

Monty Merrick

It seems a lot of people have a problem with the prose being pretentious and overwritten. However, I had a big problem with the unfolding of the plot. This was a strange book for me because I really wanted to like it and even thought I liked it after I was finished. It took me about a week to think back and realize, Wait! That was a crappy book. Problem number 1: I personally found Sophie to be an unbeleivable character. I just thought she was not-fascinating and contradictory, like, not in the way people are in real life. I'll spare you the tedium of elaborating. You can take my word for it or not but the worst is yet to come.Personally, I found Nathan to be a very realistic, frightening character. I know people like him in real life. But, Problem number 2: Styron tells this story from the first-person perspective of someone who has already gathered all the information, heard everyone's side of the story and studied World War Two. In other words, he seems to be telling the story in the wrong form. There are a lot of flashbacks and "Sophie's Choice" isn't revealed to us until the rest of the present-time turmoil is underway as well. As a reader, I've never felt more manipulated. The narrator, Stingo, reveals stuff little by little but only in a way that is sure to make everything more meladramatic and painful. It seems done not to prove a point but to give the book some tragic affect though it comes off beyond contrived. Not only did I feel manipulated, but I just didn't seem realistic how much information Stingo knew about Sophie, no matter how close they were. I'm not just talking about personal information, because we all have friends who tell us personal things but he tells parts of Sophie's story as though he were inside her head. It just felt like a huge narrative mistake ... more something to be expected of a book with an unreliable narrator, though we're supposed to put our full trust and faith in this narrator.Problem 3: It feels like Styron was trying to make a book that studied too many subjects at once. It's okay to tackle multiple subjects, but he doesn't handle any of them. He's trying to study psychosis and addiction, death, life, war, peace, prison camps, nazi mentality, anti-semitism, growing up, sexuality, sexuality, more sexuality wrapped into every other subject until it doesn't make any coherent sense anymore. I only decided to read this after Lie Down in Darkness which is infinitely better. I'm surprised that this is considered a great American novel and would never recommend it.

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