Sophie’s Choice by William Styron is one of the classic books accurately listed to be read at least once. Styron’s novel, a mix of excellent relationship development and historical fiction, goes back and forth in time in order to follow Sophie’s storyline. The relationship between the three main characters – Nathan a Jewish- American with borderline personality, Stingo, a descendant of slave owners and aspiring writer and Sophie, a polish immigrant and mother with an emotionally loaded past, is not only intriguing, but also builds up to a couple of epic plot twists…
What is the book Sophie’s Choice about?
Stingo moves into the building where Sophie and Nathan have been living as a couple and is quickly sucked into their emotionally passionate world. Nathan’s mood swings and Sophie’s guilt about her past keep Stingo entertained and inspire his writing. Sophie slowly discloses tidbits to Stingo about her past; WW2, her children, relationships, actions and failings. As she recounts these anecdotes, her romance with Nathan goes through its ups and downs, taking Stingo along for the ride. Several racial issues are mentioned in the novel, and Styron successfully portrayed the life of a polish mother during WW2 and the impossible choice she was forced to make.
Finally there is a sinister zone of likeness between Poland and the American South which, although anything but superficial, causes the two cultures to blend so perfectly together as to seem almost one in their shared extravagance-and that has to do with the matter of race, which in both worlds has produced centuries-long, all-encompassing nightmare spells of schizophrenia. In Poland and the South the abiding presence of race has created at the same instant cruelty and compassion, bigotry and understanding, enmity and fellowship, exploitation and sacrifice, searing hatred and hopeless love.
Surprising or predictable? A review
I was not expecting historical fiction from William Styron’s novel Sophie’s choice, and was pleasantly surprised at its complexity and the issues that were raised. What I assumed was a romance type fiction in which a woman picks between two men, was actually a profound historical fiction novel with barely any dialogue. The book was a slow starter, with most of its plot twists and jaw-dropping events unfortunately only taking place in the last chapter of the book. If it wasn’t for certain lengthy parts of the novel, it would have been excellent, but it ran a little too long for my taste. I really appreciated that there was more depth to the book than I expected, giving it more credibility than a simple love story would have.
I began to see seeping out of Nathan, almost like some visible poisonous exudate, his latent capacity for rage and disorder. And I also began gradually to understand how the turmoil that was grinding them to pieces had double origins, deriving perhaps equally from the black and tormented underside of Nathan’s nature and from the relinquished reality of Sophie’s immediate past, trailing its horrible smoke- as if from the very chimneys of Auschwitz-of anguish, confusion, self-deception and, above all, guilt…
The only downsides of the book are that the plot twists are so close to the end, and the novel seeming at times quite long-winded. I read a great critique of the film with Meryl Streep and must admit I am definitely curious because I can imagine how perfect a slightly shortened version of the book could be.
Apart from running a little long, William Styron’s novel Sophie’s Choice is an excellent read, making a chilling example of the impact the choices we make have on our lives.