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Sophie's Choice by William Styron

Sophie's Choice (1979)

by William Styron

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5,073801,461 (4.14)259
Stingo, a young southerner, who journeyed north in 1947 to become a writer becomes intellectually and emotionally entanglement with his neighbors in a Brooklyn rooming house. Nathan, a tortured, brilliant Jew, and his lover, Sophie, a beautiful Polish woman whose wrist bears the grim tattoo of a concentration camp ... and whose past is strewn with death that she alone survived.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
20 years after reading this novel I am still thinking about it. Today I read a quote from Jean Vanier, of L'Arche, which illuminates one of the principal visual lessons which I carried away from the movie.

We all want to turn away from anything that reveals the failure, pain, sickness and death beneath the brightly painted surface of our ordered lives. Civilization is, at least in part, about pretending that things are better than they are. We all want to be in a happy place, where everyone is nice and good and can fend for themselves. We shun our own weakness and the weakness of others. We refuse to listen to the cry of the needy. How easy it is to fall into the illusion of a beautiful world when we have lost trust in our capacity to make of our broken world a place that can become more beautiful.
Jean Vanier
Source: Becoming Human
( )
  MaryHeleneMele | May 6, 2019 |
a story "told through the eyes of a young aspiring writer from the South, about a Polish Catholic survivor of Auschwitz and her brilliant but psychotic Jewish lover in postwar Brooklyn".[2]
  brendanus | Oct 13, 2018 |
William Styron's novel Sophie's Choice takes us to post-WWII Brooklyn. It's not the poverty-ridden borough of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn, but neither is it modern-day wealthy hipster Brooklyn. It's in-between, an "ethnic" (read: mostly Jewish) working-class neighborhood. It's in a boarding house there that our narrator, aspiring writer and native Southerner Stingo, finds himself after he quits his dead-end publishing house job and can't afford Manhattan any longer. His first day in his new room, he's treated to the sound of noisy, athletic sex in the room right above his...and not too long after, he meets the lovers, Sophie and Nathan, in the midst of an awful, emotionally and physically violent public fight.

The pair are soon reconciled, though, and Stingo is quickly drawn into their orbit. Beautiful Sophie is a Polish survivor of Auschwitz who does secretarial work for a chiropractor, and the mercurial Nathan is an American Jewish medical researcher, and Stingo falls a little bit in love with both of them as he begins to write a novel based in his experiences of the South. But another messy fight and breakup between Sophie and Nathan ultimately reveals that neither of them is exactly who they seem to be and makes their tragic end seem inevitable.

This took me unusually long to get through: not because the subject matter is tough, even though it is, but because the book is just dense. Styron's prose tends towards the purple, and while usually I'm down with books that are on the overwritten side, it's a lot, you guys. It feels like the writing is struggling against the story, almost, trying to keep it from sweeping over the reader. There are plenty of remarkable passages, but the ratio of those to portions that drag isn't nearly high enough.

The story of Sophie and Nathan, when it manages to take off, is sweeping and powerful and dramatic (if a bit on the Freudian side...there's a lot of eros/thanatos stuff going on). But what grinds it to a halt is the character of Stingo. He's an obvious writer-insert character, and Styron badly overestimates how interesting the portion of the book that's devoted to his sexual frustration is. It's not only boring, it's cringe-worthy, especially the section where he jerks himself off while sharing a hotel room with his father and makes so much noise when he finishes that he wakes his dad up. I'm not going to say that no one wants to read about that because maybe someone does, but it's tonally discordant with a book that's mostly about the evils humans inflict on themselves and each other and the way we tell our own stories to try to shape the world into a way we can better cope with it. There's greatness here, but it desperately needed a better editor to cut it and make it shine like it should have. As is, it's worth reading but not something I'd honestly recommend. ( )
  500books | May 22, 2018 |
Abandoned. Bored to tears. Not interested in Stingo's sex life.
  MelissaLenhardt | Mar 11, 2018 |
This book definitely starts out horribly slow and uninteresting. The narrator, whom we know as "Stingo", is a young writer obsessed with becoming successful when he moves to New York and first encounters Sophie and Nathan. The beginning certainly dragged a ton and made me really dislike both Stingo and Nathan and feel nothing but a low level of pity for Sophie. When we finally get into the meat of the story and start getting more info on Sophie herself is when the story finally becomes interesting and had me invested in the outcome of the characters, although I never truly got to like Stingo. The ending was a bit predictable, but I still felt myself get a little choked up at it.

Overall, I would probably give this book closer to a 2 and a half stars because I could have done without all the crap about Stingo and his worries and problems. He was an extraordinarily dull character. Nathan was interesting, but he aggravated me to no end. Sophie is obviously the star of this piece. I felt so horribly bad for her, but at the same time I wanted to slap her for the constant bad decisions she would make. ( )
  Moore31 | Feb 25, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 70 (next | show all)
Evoking a period just after the end of that War, the novel deals with themes so plangent and painful, particularly Sophie’s experiences in the Holocaust, that the book becomes an important meditation on the effects of war on the individual consciousness.
More than once in this smugly autobiographical novel, Styron pouts about how his last book, The Confessions of Nat Turner, drew accusations of exploitation, accusations that "I had turned to my own profit and advantage the miseries of slavery." And Sophie's Choice will probably draw similar accusations about Styron's use of the Holocaust: his new novel often seems to be a strong but skin-deep psychosexual melodrama that's been artificially heaped with import by making one of the characters--Sophie--a concentration-camp survivor.
added by smasler | editKirkus Reivews (Jun 1, 1979)
In "Sophie's Choice," his first novel in 11 years, you will participate in his greatest risks to date,

both in structure and theme.

Within the context of a single Brooklyn sum- mer, the summer of 1947, in which the autobiog- figure and narrator, Stingo, sets out to write the "dark Tidewater fable" that will be- come "Lie Down in Darkness," Styron will set himself the task of trying to understand what he calls "the central issue" of the 20th Century: the embodiment of evil that was Auschwitz. And how does a 22-year-old Southerner, just fired from his job as a junior editor at McGraw Hill, with literary aspirations and in robust health, connect even remotely with Auschwitz? In 1947?
added by smasler | editChicago Tribune, Gail Godwin (May 27, 1979)
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Who'll show a child just as it is? Who'll place it within its constellation, with the measure of distance in its hand? Who'll make its death from grey bread, that grows hard — or leave it there, within the round mouth, like the choking core of a sweet apple? ... Minds of murderers are easily divined. But this, though: death, the whole of death, — even before life's begun, to hold it all so gently, and be good: this is beyond description!
Rainer Maria Rilke, from the fourth Duino Elegy translated by J. B. Leishman and Stephen Spender
... I seek that essential region of the soul where absolute evil confronts brotherhood.
—André Malraux, Lazare, 1974
To the Memory


My Father

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In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn.
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