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

Samara

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.

Russell Bittner

When I read and reviewed Set This House on Fire at the end of last March, I suggested I wouldn’t abandon Styron until I’d given Sophie’s Choice a fair chance.I just have.In spite of the obvious appeal of this novel — not to mention the brilliant choice of Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol to play the principal characters in its cinematic interpretation — I found some of the same flaws in it that I’d found in Set This House on Fire. To quote from my previous review: “there are certainly moments and entire passages that let a reader understand why Styron has the reputation he has. But these are too few and far between.”Styron is a stylist — and a consummate one. He’s also a consummate story-teller. But where is his editor? There are moments when Sophie sounds authentically like the non-native English speaker she is. But then, there are others when Styron would seem to have forgotten whose mouth he’s in.But let’s give the man his due. The scene from which this novel takes its title is even more gut-wrenching than Meryl Streep’s portrayal of it on the silver screen. And the prose leading up to it had already put me in a distinctly apocalyptic mood — this, although I was reading it on a quiet grassy knoll on the second day of a resplendent summer.William Styron can write; make no mistake about it. He just needs to rein in a bit when he’s on a roll. He (or a good editor) could’ve done away with a hundred pages of this novel — and it would’ve been perfect.Why, then, only four stars when I might give five to a far less well-known, far less practiced writer? Because I hold writers like William Styron to a higher standard.RRB6/23/13Brooklyn, NY

Linda

The book was published 1979. The young American Southerner and aspiring writer, Stingo, moves to a new apartment in Brooklyn, New York, and meets his neighbors Sophie and Nathan, a complex couple. At first, he can’t understand their relationship, but when the story unfolds, Sophie’s past is eventually revealed, and Stingo is beginning to see a bigger picture.The dysfunctional relationship between Sophie and Nathan can eventually be understood, in a way. What makes Styron’s writing so strong is that he is able to delve into what happens to people after a traumatic experience. Not just any such experience, but that of having being changed forever, having survived a concentration camp. I think Styron portrays very convincingly how Sophie’s soul remained in Auschwitz, and how she is never really free. She is still mentally trapped in Auschwitz and her feelings of guilt and despair never left her. That explains her self-destructive relationship with Nathan. The way she punishes herself for surviving is tragic. It’s as if she needs to remind herself of her past, not being too happy. In a way, Nathan is both her savior and her destroyer. Nathan is as complex as Sophie, not able to accept the fact that he, a jew, was living an normal life in New York and was spared the big suffering of millions. He doesn’t know how to handle that Sophie, not even a jew, was a part of that, and not him.The theme of sexuality and sexual frustration shows how people are influenced by conventions, religion or some other ideology. During the forties Freud seems to have been very popular, and everyone needed an analyst, which they listened to and obeyed blindly. It’s interesting how people everywhere are objects of indoctrination. In the book it’s the Poles' anti-semitism as well as the American Southerners' former abuse of slaves. People in a society get told what to think and what to do. There’s not much room to think for oneself. The easy way is to buy the concept. The hard way is to widen one's perspective.The prose is wonderful and flows beautifully. The story feels so convincing and real. The part where Sophie's choice is revealed is very powerful and tremendously tragic.

Lise Petrauskas

I'm halfway through my second reading of Sophie's Choice. I read it in high school and I don't know how I got through it. I had loved the movie and was so disappointed in the book. Then I found out that some of my literary idols named it as their favorite book. The humor, especially the sexual comedy, went completely over my head, and all the literary, cultural, and historical aspects were just so much filler to be gotten through between the sections of narrative of Sophie's life. I remember just hating Stingo and thinking he was boring and self-indulgent. Well, yes, he is, but I didn't get the ironic significance of that fact. I also had no clue how to read "unreliable narrators" and took it all literally as Styron himself, kind of like when theater or opera audiences not only hate the villain but the actor or singer who plays him and thus don't applaud but boo.I'm reading Sophie's Choice after having just read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany and The Adventures of Augie March. I can't think of a more perfect book to be reading along with those excellent books.

Wordsmith

Read in the early eighties, this was a book that affected me in a profound, deeply personal way. Styron, along with so many authors of his generation, were the guides of the map that charted the course of a winding, long path. I found myself to be one of the willing seekers to their grail, inhaling all as I followed along. There I was, traipsing, skipping, meandering, flying, all the while, reading words into song, and these were from the Masters, these Mozart's and Beethoven's and Liszt's of STORY, they being ones I thought Immortal, crafting words into song that began with premise, then hit that high note, thus fulfilling their promise of a story sung to it's ultimate completion. Note: This is me making reflections as I am now, at fifty, looking back at the me I was then, at twenty: To me, these sung words of story were not only akin to but actually WERE *better* than opera—Uris, Mailer, Heller, Roth, Oates, Irving, Hemingway—I could go on, naming, forever and a day.William Styron was a part of this group. Giants, all of them. This is one book *not the movie* the book, all readers should read.If you find yourself sitting on the fence regarding THIS MASTERPIECE or this is one that you have been considering; yet still, there you sit atop that fence, holding back for whatever inconceivable reason, here's my attempt to tempt with a slight curve into coercion, call it a shade of persuasion when I say please —consider this:SOPHIE'S CHOICEWas Awarded The Pulitzer PrizeWas Awarded The National Book Award Is On The Guardian's 1,000 Novels Everyone Must Read (Annotated List)Is 82 On Le Monde's 100 Books Of The Century (Annotated List)Is 56 in Best English Language Fiction Of The 20th Century (Annotated List)Is 92 In Modern Library's 100 Best Novels: The Boards List (Annotated List)A Must Read imho

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.

Shruti

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.

Richard

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.

Serena

This book is the most well-written and most beautifully written that I have ever read. It's worth reading just for the prose and for the flawless vocabulary. Every word that Styron uses is the PERFECT word - nothing express his meaning better than the word he selects. I had to look up a word I didn't know just about every page, and I'd like to think that my vocabulary isn't too shabby!While it's worth reading just for the writing, the story takes the book to the next level (I hate myself a little for using a cliche when reviewing Styron, but it's all I can come up with right now). It's gripping. It's moving. It's also the saddest books I've ever read.Read it, but come armed with the biggest dictionary you can find and a Costco-sized supply of Kleenex. Don't say I didn't warn you. But seriously, go read it.

Pantopicon

** spoiler alert ** Two stars is a bit of a disingenuous rating -- it's possibly best left unrated. At turns brilliant, and at other moments mind-numbing wading through thick, overladen prose -- the novel is as schizophrenic as Nathan. Definitely not in the Hemingway or Faulkner tradition as has been suggested by contemporary critical reviews of the text -- but, in a way this book is Styron's, and in turn Stingo's, longing to be part of that genealogy. There are much better crafted explorations of the themes that "Sophie's Choice" approaches -- on the banality of evil read Arendt, not Styron's capsule summary of Arendt, want Southern gothic -- read Faulkner, want frustrated virility -- read Hemingway, want a deconstruction of social pretension -- read Fitzgerald -- not Styron. That said, parts of the novel captivated me -- Nathan's unveiling, Sophie's narration of her experiences in Auschwitz being two of the most singular. And, as for her choice? It was no choice at all -- Freud and Lacan have taught us that much, but, Sophie would HATE that I said that.

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.

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...

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.

Cherie

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.

Will

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.

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