Top positive review
No choice to make
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.