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Sophie's Choiceby William Styron
Synopses & Reviews
The Holocaust becomes a breathtaking personal drama, in the midst of a vast cataclysm, in William Styron's Sophie's Choice, a big and questing novel with autobiographical elements and a fearless determination to explore a particular human dimension of a historical nightmare. The novel speaks through the voice of Styron's alter ego, a polite young Tidewater Virginian called Stingo who comes to New York in 1947 in the hopes of being a writer.
With a small legacy that will enable him to devote himself to writing, Stingo lands in a boarding house in deepest Brooklyn. There he befriends an irresistible character named Nathan Landau, a compelling but deeply disturbed Jewish intellectual who has nursed back to health a beautiful Polish war victim, Sophie Zawistowska, who is now his lover. Stingo revels in his time with his new friends but gradually becomes aware of the shadows that surround them. Their relationship is tormented, even violent. Sophie begins to describe to Stingo her experiences during the war, when — as a Polish Catholic, the daughter of a law professor and the married mother of two — she was persecuted with all the viciousness the Nazis could muster. Her husband and father were murdered, and she and her children were sent to Auschwitz. Sophie lived through it, amazingly, but only in the technical sense, an act of survival that begins with an awful decision she was forced to make. With her unstable lover, she now waits for a fate that seems, to Stingo, as inevitable as it is tragic.
Sophie's Choice is a rare event in late-20th-century American fiction — a bold, substantial novel with serious themes that also tells a riveting story. Styron meditates frequently on the historical dimension of the Holocaust and how such a thing could happen, letting the matter resonate with his own knowledge of oppression that occurred in the American South. The characters are powerfully and engagingly drawn, often with wit and humor, and the novel speaks with great humanity. "It belongs on that small shelf reserved or American masterpieces," Paul Fussell wrote in the Washington Post Book World. "Sophie´s Choice is in the main stream of the American novel. Like A Portrait of a Lady or The Great Gatsby, it is...wonderfully human."
"Sophie's Choice achieves an almost palpable evocation of its place and time--Poland before and during the war, Brooklyn and Coney Island immediately after." Geoffrey Wolff
"No reader of Sophie's Choice can doubt that Styron has put immense energy into trying to understand and deal justly with the evils in American history and the European holocaust, to say nothing of the evil (as well as the good) in his characters....Scene after scene comes back now, long after I last read the book, with astonishing vividness — perhaps the most obvious mark of a masterpiece." John Gardner
"Styron's most impressive performance....It belongs on that small shelf reserved for American masterpieces." Washington Post Book World
"[One morning] in the early spring, I woke up with the remembrance of a girl I'd once known, Sophie. It was a very vivid half-dream, half-revelation, and all of a sudden I realized that hers was a story I had to tell." That very day, William Styron began writing the first chapter of Sophie's Choice.
First published in 1979, this complex and ambitious novel opens with Stingo, a young southerner, journeying north in 1947 to become a writer. It leads us into his intellectual and emotional 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.
"Sophie's Choice is a passionate, courageous book...a philosophical novel on the most important subject of the twentieth century," said novelist and critic John Gardner in The New York Times Book Review. "One of the reasons Styron succeeds so well in Sophie's Choice is that, like Shakespeare (I think the comparison is not too grand), Styron knows how to cut away from the darkness of his material, so that when he turns to it again it strikes with increasing force....Sophie's Choice is a thriller of the highest order, all the more thrilling for the fact that the dark, gloomy secrets we are unearthing one by one — sorting through lies and terrible misunderstandings like a hand groping for a golden nugget in a rattlesnake's nest — may be authentic secrets of history and our own human nature."
Three stories are told: a young Southerner wants to become a writer; a turbulent love-hate affair between a brilliant Jew and a beautiful Polish woman; and of an awful wound in that woman's past--one that impels both Sophie and Nathan toward destruction.
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