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

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...


It is difficult to describe, in these few lines, the emotions felt when reading such a work. The scope and the grandeur are beyond limit. However, at times, the book does seem a little bloated, especially in its pseudo-erotic scenes.However, when touching upon the Holocaust, it is difficult to argue or consider any passages as overreaching or unnecessary. In this, "Sophie's Choice" remains a document to be cherished and admired.It is the character of Nathan Landau that remains a little contentious. While Mr. Styron tries to make him somewhat grotesque there is an underlying sympathy. Perhaps Styron's sympathy is with the mentally ill and not this character per se.As for Sophie, I cannot argue with Styron's depiction as I have never met a survivior and, while I find the character somewhat unbelievable, who am I to argue? How a human being put under such stress (in this, she is wholly believable) would turn out is difficult to answer.Stingo is the fulcrum of the story and if we remember 22, his is the most identifiable character -- the most universal.All in all, "Sophie's Choice" remains a text to be read and kept as a record of a period in American history (World history, for that matter) that should be preserved for its optimism and horror at the same time. I imagine that the period post-WWII was one of optimism in that the Nazi regime had been defeated, but one of horror for what was allowed to happen. This dual feeling must have left all feeling a little frenetic and hoping to distance themselves from those very recent events. Styron's novel evokes this frenzy perfectly.


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.


** 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.


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.


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!


** spoiler alert ** Honestly? I hated this book. Good story, horrible book. If your thing is that you're going to be gross about sex because it's relevant to the time period, or characters, or story, then fine, go ahead and do it. But to be gross and include sexually explicit content just because you can, that's just stupid. If this book had been just about Sophie, and even included some of her sex experiences, that would have been fine. But the book should have really been called: I'm a perv, and here's some stuff about a girl in WWII. The author wasn't gross about sex because that's how it was in the concentration camps, he was just gross about sex for the hell of it. I don't need to know about the narrator's sex life and/or every impure thought, most of which are not relevant to the story. Oh, and almost most of the Nazi's sexual histories/fantasies. Because who they want to sleep with is relevant to why they're being assholes I guess (not). Why in the world do you have something about peeing in someone's mouth?? It's absolutely disgusting and absolutely irrelevant! And another thing: How weak do you think women really are? Sophie was supposedly raped or almost raped, what, 3 or 4 times? One by a finger in a subway? You think we just stand there with our legs open? Another by a maid, who supposedly eats out Sophie in a hall closet. You don't think she could have done one thing to prevent that from happening? Like, I don't know, keep your legs closed and push her away??? All that, and she still just sleeps with the narrator, despite how in love she is with her psycho boyfriend. Oh my God, this book was just so inappropriate. And it's a pretty convenient trick to create a character that just lies all the time. You can change your entire history of events by just saying "Oh, I lied about that." You can change just about anything halfway through the book, for that matter. "Oh, I forgot to tell you..." I'm not sure if I've ever said this, but the movie was way better, and much MUCH more tastefully done. I watched it when I was halfway through the book because I wanted to see what happened to Sophie, but really didn't feel like reading the rest of it. I will never recommend this book to anyone. He tries to use a lot of pretty, big words, but you can't use them to disguise horrible writing.


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


Sophie's Choice revolves around three characters and three story lines. The protagonist, Stingo, is an aspiring writer from the South who stumbles upon Sophie and Nathan when moving into his apartment in New York. Sophie serves as the beautiful and damaged love interest, a Polish woman and a survivor of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp. Nathan, a handsome and successful biologist, brings both darkness and light into their lives. Stingo's journey as an individual and a writer, Sophie's troubled past, and Sophie and Nathan's tumultuous relationship all come together in a convoluted, intensely passionate triangle that will break readers' hearts.This was my first time reading Styron. While his writing was not as superb in the literary sense as that of other authors, his prose conveyed all of the emotion essential to the story. Sophie's Choice reads like an addictive drama, sucking people in and slowly latching onto their hearts - and at the end, all heck breaks loose. The development of the characters and the conflict amazed me as well. This book reminded me of Wuthering Heights, as Styron masterfully manipulated the narration and the timeline of events by using flashbacks. This allowed him to foreshadow certain occurrences and keep other revelations secret.One minor issue I had while reading was the amount of sex. I understand that Styron included it to portray the mindset of a twenty-something-year-old man and to incorporate humor into his work, but at times it felt gratuitous. The book could have been more concise and effective if someone had eliminated some of Stingo's sexual thoughts and explorations.However, I would recommend Sophie's Choice to everybody because of how beautifully and powerfully Styron tackled themes like oppression, mental illness, abusive relationships, etc. Get ready to cry, or at least feel serious heartbreak when you reach the end. It speaks to the evil mankind is capable of, for anyone to have to make anything similar to Sophie's choice.*review cross-posted on my blog, the quiet voice.

Mark Benham

Anyone else feel as ambivalent towards this 'modern classic' as I do? On the one hand, he makes the terrible subject matter of the Holocaust into a powerful read for a wide audience. And he's written a page-turner with a screenwriter's sense of painting a vivid scene. And it's a clever combination of the two great strands in 20th Century American ficiton: the urban Jewish adventure and the Southern gentleman at large in the world. But the characters are barely believable ciphers, it's schematic to the nth degree and it seems to switch from the Holocaust to erotica every other page. I admire the commitment to remembering the horror, but turning the Final Solution into a pot-boiler, albeit with a literary sensibility, makes me feel queasy. I don't believe "After Auschwtiz, no poetry". A book like The Reader handled this material with much greater subtlety (and poetry). On this subejct, non-fiction offers a much stronger eye witness than fiction ever could. Why read Styron when you can read Primo Levi? Interested if anyone else has a strong response to this book, whether cos you liked it or can't decide if you do like it.


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.

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!

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.

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.

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