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on 3 June 2017
Sophie’s Choice is a traumatic read. In fact, I would say that if you don’t happen to be in a good place emotionally, avoid it. If you are in a good place emotionally, then Sophie’s Choice will change all that.

The opening reveals little of what is ahead. You meet a young man known as Stingo, reading manuscripts for a publishing company in New York just after the Second World War. He finds this work less than fulfilling and sets out to be a writer himself. This part of the book is funny and charming. Then Stingo meets Sophie, a survivor of Auschwitz. After that, it felt wrong not to go on, but I read as fast as possible so I could escape these awful pages.

Nevertheless, I’m glad I have read Sophie’s Choice. In the end, I think this book, full of the horrors of human cruelty, really confirms the interconnectedness of things. In the case of Sophie herself, it is hard to work out if she is a collaborator, an innocent victim, a resistance fighter or someone whose only motivation is the desire for survival of herself and those close to her. Really, she is all of those things. Sophie is asked to choose between acting only for herself, and in the wider interests of the resistance. By a twist of fate, actions in her own interest come to coincide with those of the resistance. It turns out there are no alternatives, no sides to take, no choice to make.

Many politicians today still love to create borders. They create some out-group to take the blame for problems, a group they can exclude or expel. Sophie’s Choice reminds us that this kind of hatefulness takes on a horrible momentum.

“Do you think when they finish with the Jews they’re going to dust off their hands and stop murdering and make their peace with the world? You underestimate their evil if you have such a delusion.”

Setting out to persecute one group of people, leads to an arbitrary hatred that can swallow up anyone, haters as well as those hated. Why can’t we learn that lesson? Sophie’s Choice is a salutary reminder.
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on 5 February 2017
I read this many years ago and got it for a friend. It's war time classic and well worth reading about the suffering inflicted on the Jews, Poles and others in the Auschwitz concentration camp. Mostly done as flashblacks it is a moving and sad tale.
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on 8 April 2017
Perfect I just love it
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on 15 February 2017
Very old copy. Bought for gift. Not so happy
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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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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 19 April 2014
I got this for my first summer read: I plan to read at least 10 books before the summer is up.
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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 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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