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3.4 out of 5 stars34
3.4 out of 5 stars
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on 9 March 2001
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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on 25 February 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.
-the way it is written, the fantastic use of words, is rich, luscious,langorous and enthralling, it takes full advantage of the range of words in the English language, it is descriptive yet never tediously so.
-the fact that it is written from the viewpoint of a young man really shows through, it is humorous at points, more serious at others, yet it remains focused in that it realistically deals with the issues people at that age face.
-finally, I really enjoyed the way the novel kept moving forwards story-wise while digging into the past to uncover more details.

I highly recommend this book, it is fresh and managed to stay in my mind for a long time after.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 10 August 2015
This novel was not what I expected. Its fame had preceded it, so I was aware that it involved a concentration camp during WWII, and I also knew the nature of the 'choice' Sophie made. So I'd expected a moving, perhaps upsetting, story about the holocaust and the people caught up in it. However, that's not really what you get. In fact, very little of this 600 page plus novel is about Sophie, and much less her 'choice'. What you do get is a coming of age novel about an aspiring young male American author by the unlikely name of 'Stingo'. It details in great length his (generally unsuccessful) love life, and his friendship with Sophie's boyfriend, Nathan. He also has an unrequited love for Sophie herself - or rather for her good looks.

Sophie may be the title character, but somehow she remains a secondary one. I dislike this, as it feels dishonest, and also seems to marginalise the seriousness of her past. There is a really misogynistic tone to this book which irritated me hugely. This is unlike me as I'm not someone who gets greatly worked up about depiction of women in books. Most of what we know about Sophie relates to her looks. In fact, you strongly get the impression that if Sophie hadn't been beautiful, it's unlikely anyone would have cared less about her past or her 'choice'. The other women who live in the boarding house that Sophie, Stingo and Nathan are all tenants of, are described as 'dogs' or 'pigs'. No one so much as asks if they have a tragic past - obviously such histories are only worth finding out about if narrated by a pretty girl. Despite being intelligent - multi-lingual and musically gifted for starters - Sophie is generally depicted as weak and sweet, a permanent damsel in distress. Much is made of her minor inaccuracies in English, which of course the narrator finds greatly endearing (patronising so and so!), No one seems to respect Sophie for her strength in surviving the horrors she has, or for having made a new life in a foreign country where she knew no one, but managed to learn the language and hold down a job.

Nathan is the more interesting character, and to centre the book more explicitly on him would have been better. Stingo is likeable enough, although I saw him as something of a lazy authorial insert. I wasn't really that bothered about any of the characters, even Sophie, and I literally could not have cared less about Stingo's failed romances. At one point the narrative actually touches on writers using the holocaust as a way to sell books. I hate to say it, but it feels to me like that's what's happened here. Styron wanted to tell a story about Stingo and Nathan. Sophie could have been any old pretty, delicate woman caught in the middle. Why drag such a sensitive subject into it?

Overall, it is incredibly dull and overwritten and I skim read whole chapters (anything where Stingo took his clothes off for a start). There were many irritations, as detailed above, which frustrated me. Occasionally there are gleams of a good and interesting story, but they're crushed out by the sheer weight of irrelevant prose. The actual 'choice' scene is given about three pages towards the very end. I didn't even find it moving as you don't really get to read about Sophie's thought processes (it's all channelled via a third party) and you don't really know the characters of Sophie's children, so it lacks the incredible emotional punch that such a scene could and should have done.

I'm glad I've finished this book and won't be hurrying out to get another. Be warned, if you come to this novel expecting a moving war story, you'll be disappointed.
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on 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? I think it's just terrible, bloated, turgid and oddly amateur. Without a doubt, it is the worst 'great' novel I have encountered. I am totally mystified why anyone should love such a book because, frankly, I hated pretty much everything about it.
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on 18 February 2013
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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on 21 December 2013
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. It is really well written. Enjoy!
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on 31 December 2015
The essence of the story was almost buried in long and distracting digressions. Styron clearly researched the details In depth but he seems unable to précis his abstracts to reveal the substance. When the climax of the story came, on the platform at Auschwitz where Sophie had to make her choice, that moment was quickly over in comparison when that was the opportunity to draw out the agony. Stingo figured too much and got in the way. The comparison throughout of the treatment of blacks in the American South and Jews in the 'final solution' also served to diminish the enormity of the latter.
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on 31 January 2001
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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on 15 May 2013
I really liked the book though it was depressing at times. It was griping and I think the film did it no justice.
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on 28 February 2015
I bought the book because I saw the film many years ago. The book is even more haunting. Don't read if you are already feeling depressed. But do read if you're ready to face the true nature of humanity. From a quality point of view - excellent. The rating says I love it - I wish there was a star that said 'will stay with me for a long time; could make a permanent change in your world view'.
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