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Sophie's Choice (Modern Library) Hardcover – 1 Feb 1998

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 599 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Inc; New edition edition (1 Feb. 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679602895
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679602897
  • Product Dimensions: 14 x 3.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 837,245 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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. Her full name is Sophie Zawistowska, and she's the only other non-Jewish tenant in the Flatbush boarding house where narrator; Stingo, the young Styron, comes to attempt his first novel in 1947 after a brief nightmare as a reader at McGraw-Hill. Virtually virginal Stingo, of course, lusts like crazy after gorgeously 30-ish Sophie, but she is noisily, hotly in love with Nathan Landau, the brilliant, erratic biologist who nursed immigrant Sophie back to health after meeting her in the library. Soon Nathan, Sophie, and Stingo are a bouncy threesome, smiling together through Coney Island picnics or suffering together whenever Nathan has one of his irrational, jealous, abusive fits. And Sophie begins to reveal to Stingo, layer by layer, her guilty secrets: how she was both victim and accomplice at Auschwitz, playing the role of anti-Semite to ingratiate herself with officials; how she was willing to use her body to gain advantages; how she was forced to choose which of her two young children would die in the gas chamber. These reminiscences give Styron an opportunity to expound on the Holocaust and anti-Semitism, and to give the novel an ostensible unity: Someday I will write about Sophie's life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the worm. But Sophie's death - a suicide pact with Nathan (who's soon exposed as a certifiable lunatic) after a brief but elaborate roll in the hay with Stingo - is only tenuously linked to the evil of Auschwitz; it's more in the good old Southern-gothic tradition. And when Styron tells us that Stingo has learned through Sophie about death, and pain, and loss, and the appalling enigma of human existence, the pomposity seems unsupported, unearned by Stingo/Styron. Lesser problems too: the clumsy narrative shifts in the Auschwitz flashbacks, the impossibly ornate dialogue, the self-dramatizing, the diminishing returns of Styron's encyclopedic ability to run on and on about a subject. Still, with all that said, Styron is a born writer, and when he's just storytelling - and not playing the dubious role of Great American Writer and Thinker - there's enough detailed, vigorous, sheer readability here to sustain even some of those readers bound to be turned off by the sticky contrivances and hollow pretentions. --Kirkus Reviews

Book Description

The movie was Oscar-nominated and the book was banned in libraries across the States. This heartbreaking, compassionate and controversial novel interweaves themes of survivor guilt, madness and betrayal. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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In those days cheap apartments were almost impossible to find in Manhattan, so I had to move to Brooklyn. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

3.6 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

23 of 25 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 9 Mar. 2001
Format: Paperback
I throughly enjoyed the film and decided to read the book and it is even better, it is an extremely powerful story centering on three characters, Stingo the narrator, Sophie a Polish emigrant and Nathan, her Jewish lover. The story is set in Brooklyn, New York in 1947 and concerns the relationship between the three who are neighbours in the same boarding house. Initially all is well and they become the best of friends but all is not what it appears. It transpires that Sophie is a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp although she is Polish. She is haunted by her past and by all the friends and family who did not survive the war. As the story continues it takes us back to pre-war Europe in flashback. It also explores her relationship with Nathan, a brilliant but unstable character with his own demons. Without giving too much away the story has a heartbreaking twist to it and a box of tissues might come in handy. For me, what gave it immediacy and such a haunting quality is that Sophie is apparently based on someone who the author actually knew and the reader is left asking how much of it is fiction?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Annabel Lee on 25 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback
This is an amazing book, I don't know why I didn't discover it earlier. Despite its size it makes for an enjoyable read and it doesn't take a very long time to find yourself reaching the end!

It is told through the eyes of a young man nicknamed Stingo, a Southerner, living in 1950's New York; his ambition is to be a writer. He moves into a boarding house (all the rooms are a bright pink colour!) and it is there he meets Sophie and Nathan and gets to observe their destructive relationship firsthand as they become friends. Stingo recounts not only his own life and everyday occurences (I found it quite interesting and surprisingly humorous to read his descriptions of Leslie Lapidus, a girl he meets at Coney Island, and the way he was impressed by the ease with which she uses swear words-he compares her to all the Southern girls he's met who play hard-to-get and have various inhibitions).
Of course I do not want to reveal any major plot points, I'm sure it's pretty obvious just from the title that a choice Sophie had to make in the past is eventually revealed.

Personally I think that the following are the main attributes this novel has and they constitute the main reasons for reading it:
-the story and the way it unfolds is excellent, it never gets boring; it recounts Sophie's past (sometimes she seemingly telling the story), it includes a few short diary entries and some letters from Stingo's father (these are just a tiny proportion of the book, the main style of the book is from Stingo's point of view) which all add to the story's interest and flowing narrative.
-Nathan and Sophie's relationship may not be something all of us can directly relate to but it is an accurate and somewhat scary portrayal of the dynamics in a relationship.
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44 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Max Planck on 26 April 2011
Format: Paperback
Many people love this book. Anthony Burgess included it in his "Ninety-Nine Novels" (Ninety-nine Novels: The Best in English Since 1939 - A Personal Choice) and it features in the Modern Library list of the 100 best novels (albeit at No.96). And you can see among the reviews on this page that many of your fellow Amazon shoppers hold it in high esteem.

But a few don't. And I'm one of them. I consider myself to be well-read in American literature, and have also read a number of other Holocaust-themed novels. For me, "Sophie's Choice" ranks as one of the poorest books in either category that I have ever read. A banal plot with dystfunctional, borderline-loathsome characters, all told in what must be one of the most grating, convoluted and....well....just plain bad writing styles that I have ever come across. Styron's prose is so awful that it took a Herculean effort for me to get through passages like this:

"I recalled once more (how many times had I summoned their sound?) the pellucid indecencies Leslie had uttered, and as I did so - the view-finder of my mind reshaping each crevice of her moist and succulent lips, the orthodontically fashioned perfection of the sparkling incisors, even a cunning fleck of foam at the edge of an orifice - it seemed the dizzyiest pipe dream that this very evening, sometime before the sun should fulfill its oriental circuit and rise again on Sheepshead bay that mouth would be - no I could not let myself think about that slippery-sweet mouth and its impending employments.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mike N on 18 Feb. 2013
Format: Paperback
Don't be put off reading this just because you already know what Sophie's choice was. Of course it is a "twist" in the traditional sense of a plot, but knowing in advance does little to detract from the story.

We follow Stingo, an aspiring writer from the south, who is living in the big city on a small budget. He meets Sophie and her beau, and falls in love with the (older) Polish girl. As the book unfolds we get to know more of Sophie's backstory, which goes some way to explaining why she puts up with the way she is treated in her existing relationship, and current choices are woven back in time with actions and choices taken in the concentration camp.

It is a huge achievement!

As some have pointed out (with 1 star reviews!) the writing can be a little overdone at times, but it's not something I really noticed, and the story and the characters were more than enough to draw me in and keep me there.

Now ... I wonder if I should watch the film. Never seen it!
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