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Sophie's Choice (Modern Library) [Hardcover]

William Styron
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Feb 1998 Modern Library
Set in Brooklyn in 1947, this is the story of Sophie, a Polish Catholic immigrant who is haunted by her memories of the concentration camp in wartime Europe, and the terrible choice she was forced to make.

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: 21.2 x 14.4 x 2.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,148,000 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


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

'Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz'

To mark the centenary of the First World War, Vintage is launching a unique collection of war fiction. April 2014 will see the publication of twelve works by the greatest writers of the last century, each tackling this most powerful and universal of subjects.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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First Sentence
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

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophie's Choice 25 Feb 2009
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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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
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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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars I'm totally mystified by its status and reputation 26 April 2011
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."

Now, if this sounds like your idea of "great literature" (and if it is, you're not alone) then you might enjoy wading through about 650 pages of similar prose. Me?
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19 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The most moving book I have ever read 31 Jan 2001
By A Customer
Please, Please, Please read this book. It is an amazing account of the lives of three people drawn together in New York in 1947. This book should be read by both young and old. Through it's powerful and spell binding narrative it chronicals in particular the life of Sophie,a Polish survivor of Auschwitz and builds up to the gut renshing and heart breaking finale - her choice.
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2.0 out of 5 stars :-( sorry 27 April 2014
By wendy
Format:Mass Market Paperback|Verified Purchase
Am sorry I just can not get in too this book I don't seem to know what it's all about
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars First summer read
I got this for my first summer read: I plan to read at least 10 books before the summer is up.
Published 3 months ago by A
3.0 out of 5 stars Sophies Choice book
The book was a present for my Daughter Sophie who hadn't read it in the 90"s She has really enjoyed it and probably understands it better in her 20"s Yes a very good read.
Published 6 months ago by carol vaughan
3.0 out of 5 stars disappointment in this book
I really did nor want nearly all the book to be about stingo, I was rather disappointed in this book, perhaps it's because he didn't get all the facts he needed to write about her... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Sam
5.0 out of 5 stars Classic
This book is a classic - it is quite distressing as you might anticipate any holocaust related book to be. The book is thought provoking mixing, and I would recommend it. Read more
Published 7 months ago by NJ
5.0 out of 5 stars Very thought provoking
I really liked the book though it was depressing at times. It was griping and I think the film did it no justice.
Published 14 months ago by Miss Finola M Kelly
5.0 out of 5 stars Sophies Choice
I have bought this book, which by the way came within a week of ordering, because I watched the film on DVD and the parts where 'Sophie' talks in German, there was no translation... Read more
Published 14 months ago by janebeatrixbritnell
4.0 out of 5 stars Well worth it, even if you know the "choice"
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... Read more
Published 17 months ago by Mike N
1.0 out of 5 stars Tedious
This is honestly the worst book I've ever read. Knowing the 'choice' Sophie has to make but having never seen the film, I really thought this would be a good book. I was so wrong. Read more
Published on 20 Mar 2012 by Bookworm
4.0 out of 5 stars a very considerable achievement
Styron gives us in 600 pages a view of the life of Stingo in 1947, an aspriring writer, in the round - including his employment and love life - but with the centrepiece being his... Read more
Published on 3 July 2011 by William Jordan
1.0 out of 5 stars Dull, don't bother reading this.
I genuinely have no idea why this book is considered such a classic. Every inch of the story is long and drawn out, simplistic things are over analysised and too detailed and yet... Read more
Published on 29 Aug 2010 by G. Jones
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