Sophie’s Choice, by William Styron

Who could forget Meryl Streep’s Academy Award-winning role in Sophie’s Choice? Having literally begged for the part, she didn’t disappoint her audience. Her dedication and mimicry of the perfect Polish accent is renowned. You’ll love the book.

Be warned, though, it’s of epic proportions: I nibbled at it for over a month, but enjoyed every second of it. Banned from many libraries due to its content, the novel is evocative, shocking, informative and sexy. Knowing of its infamy, though, naturally just makes one all the more curious.

Styron is such a gifted writer: the faces and mannerisms of the characters are so effortlessly formed in the imagination. And while the reading also feels effortless, at the end you know you’ve been absorbed in something immensely complex and disturbingly profound. With three main characters, all with their own tale to tell, it evolves into a harrowing tale of guilt, maturity, lies, confession, resolve and devastation.

The novel is narrated by Stingo, a Southern boy with the ambition of becoming a writer in New York City. He finds himself thrown into an unexpected and compelling relationship with the beautiful Sophie, a Polish survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau, and her boyfriend, Nathan, a brilliant Jew with a mercurial temperament. Hopelessly in love with Sophie, Stingo becomes her confidant as she unravels her woeful tale of the encampment, the decisions she made in order to survive the war, and her relationship with Nathan.

Through Sophie’s measured outpouring of her experiences to Stingo, the reader accrues an unforgettable experience of the Nazis’ Final Solution. This experience has not so much to do with the atrocities of the war itself, but concerns the atrocity of man and the extent to which he is capable of pure evil.

Sophie’s Choice is a difficult book to review as the content weighs so heavily, and so much happens throughout it. The best thing I can say, really, is to give it a try. At number 96 on the Modern Library’s Top 100 list I’m obviously not alone in my admiration of it.


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