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Sophie's Choice ()


Modern Library Top 100 Novels of the 20th Century (96)

Stingo is a genteel Southerner who has come to post WWII New York City to carve a niche in the literary world. When his job at McGraw-Hill finally becomes too soul-deadening, he moves to Yetta Zimmerman's boarding house in Flatbush & begins to write a novel.

He is soon drawn into the lives of two of his fellow boarders, Sophie Z, a non-Jewish survivor of Auschwitz and Nathan Landow, her manic lover.  Stingo falls in love with Sophie, and more or less with Nathan, as they make trips to the beach and hang out in local bars.  Nathan is paranoid and abusive, frequently forcing Stingo to comfort Sophie.  As they spend more time together, Sophie gradually unfolds the story of her horrifying experiences in the Holocaust.

Stingo speaks with a distinctive voice and the choice Sophie is compelled to make is horrible and compelling, but somehow we never really connect with the three main characters.  Stingo comes across like a more serious version of a Woody Allen character--all unfulfilled sexual longing.  Nathan is so abusive that it's hard to see why Stingo is attracted to him (Sophie's attraction to him is reducible to mere masochism).  And Sophie is ultimately little more than a beautiful victim, first of her father, then of the Nazis, then of Nathan.

Pop-psych Interlude:  I'm sure it's occured to others that William Styron is the living embodiment of White Liberal Guilt. He always uses first person narration, so in Lie Down in Darkness he was a woman, in The Confessions of Nat Turner, a black slave & here he's a virtual Jew. One can only point out that all of these characters meet horrific fates, so maybe he's still got some issues to work through with his therapist.

(Reviewed:)

Grade: (C)

  

Websites:

Book-related and General Links:
    -INTERVIEW: A Conversation with William Styron (NEH)
    -CYBERCAST: Discussion with Novelist William Styron (Library of Congress)
    -PROFILE: WILLIAM STYRON ON HIS LIFE AND WORK (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times Book Review)
    -BOOKLIST: Strictly Southern: THE AUTHOR OF "SOPHIE'S CHOICE" PICKS FIVE GREAT CONTEMPORARY SOUTHERN NOVELS (William Styron, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of  FORTUNATE SON By Lewis B. Puller Jr. (William Styron, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: Dear Dirty Dublin: My Joycean Trek With Philip Roth (William Styron, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: THE LITERARY EYE; Death Row  (William Styron, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY:  William Styron: In the Jungle, NY Review of Books
    -ESSAY: William Styron: NAT TURNER AND "DRED", NY Review of Books
    -ESSAY:  William Styron: Hell Reconsidered, NY Review of Books
    -REVIEW: William Styron: A Farewell to Arms, NY Review of Books
        A Rumor of War by Philip Caputo
    -REVIEW: William Styron: In the Southern Camp, NY Review of Books
        Mary Chesnut's Civil War edited by C. Vann Woodward
    -REVIEW: William Styron: MacArthur, NY Review of Books
        Reminiscences by Douglas MacArthur
    -REVIEW: William Styron: Tootsie Rolls, NY Review of Books
        Candy by Terry Southern and Mason Hoffenberg
    -REVIEW: William Styron: A Southern Conscience, NY Review of Books
        A Southern Prophecy by Lewis H. Blair and Introduction by C. Vann Woodward
    -REVIEW:  William Styron: The Habit, NY Review of Books
        The Consumers Union Report on Smoking and the Public Interest
    -REVIEW: William Styron: An Elegy for F. Scott Fitzgerald, NY Review of Books
        The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald edited by Andrew Turnbull
    -REVIEW: William Styron: Overcome, NY Review of Books
        American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker
    -REVIEW: William Styron: New Editions, NY Review of Books
        Slave and Citizen: The Negro in the Americas by Frank Tannenbaum
    -REVIEW: Philip Rahv: Through the Midst of Jerusalem, NY Review of Books
        The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
    -REVIEW: Eugene D. Genovese: The Nat Turner Case, NY Review of Books
        William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond
    -REVIEW: Robert Towers: Stingo's Story, NY Review of Books
        Sophie's Choice by William Styron
    -ESSAY: A VISIT TO THE BROOKLYN OF 'SOPHIE'S CHOICE'  (LESLIE BENNETTS, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: A Sojourn in Dante's Wood, and the Path Back (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: A Howling Tempest in the Brain (VICTORIA GLENDINNING, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of A Tidewater Morning Three Tales From Youth By William Styron (MICHIKO KAKUTANI, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of A TIDEWATER MORNING Three Tales From Youth. By William Styron (Richard Bausch, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THIS QUIET DUST And Other Writings. By William Styron (Thomas R. Edwards, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of THIS QUIET DUST By William Styron (Anatole Broyard, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of DOG EAT DOG By Edward Bunker Introduction by William Styron (RICHARD BERNSTEIN, NY times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: 'Authenticity,' or the Lesson of Little Tree (Henry Louis Gates Jr, NY Times Book Review)
    -'GREAT BOOKS' WE NEVER FINISHED READING (NY Times Book Review)
    -PROFILE:  JAMES BALDWIN-REFLECTIONS OF A MAVERICK (Julius Lester, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY: BRINGING 'SOPHIE'S CHOICE' TO THE SCREEN (JANET MASLIN, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: MODERN NOVELS; THE 99 BEST (Anthony Burgess, NY times Book Review)

Comments:

I think people of any political stripe can appreciate Sophie's Choice. Although guilt is an issue in the novel, it's not quite as large an idea in the novel as this review makes it out to be. The purpose of this site seems not to be to review great literature honestly, but to mercilessly destroy any viewpoint that seems even vaguely "liberal". I think that's a shame. Although I am from Canada, and decidedly left-leaning I would be interested in seeing a genuine conservative critique of literature. Sadly what we see here is the kind of bashing we used to see on CNN's "Crossfire". There's not alot of thought, just knee-jerk reactionism. I found Sophie's Choice to be a miracle of literature. Like a good meal, it fulfills in every possible way. It's funny, sad, sexy, dramatic, and touching. This is one of the best books I've ever read. Even a humourless conservative could enjoy it!

- One of the most amazing books I have ever read

- Nov-12-2006, 22:32

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P.S. You better hope that there is a God on your side to deliver you. William Styron was blessed to come out of that death to even see enough to bless others with the knowledge to understand what the hell is happening to them, and to know that they are not crazy, JUST ILL and treatable.

I just hope you don't end up in a mental ward after what your about to go through. God Bless You Jesus Christ rest you!

- Whateeva!

- May-25-2005, 19:44

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