Sophie's Choice by William Styron: A Review

The worst game of 'Would you rather...'


“She was so chaotically in love with Nathan that it was like dementia, and it is more often than not the person one loves from whom one withholds the most searing truths about one’s self; if only out of the very human motive to spare groundless pain.”

This observation, made by Stingo, concerning Sophie was what led me to (mistakenly) conclude that Sophie and I were similar. That we were kindred souls, separated by time, distance and circumstances. Fellow psychos in love.  How wrong I was! Sophie is nothing like anyone I know, including me.

Through her confidante, Stingo, to whom she pours out her darkest secrets over the summer of ’47, Sophie takes us back to her youth in Cracow, Poland. She weaves us through her experiences during World War II that saw her lose everything that she held dear. In her faltering English, supplemented by French and German phrases, she takes Stingo and I through those difficult years of her life.

I can almost taste her defiance to break as she is forced to move to Warsaw to work in a tar factory after her father and husband are rounded up by the Gestapo. I take that daily walk to work with her, passing through the Jewish ghetto where Jews are rounded up like cattle and hurdled to concentration camps for labor and extermination; all this as part of  the Nazis twisted efforts to ‘solve’ the Jewish ‘problem’. I feel my stomach turn in fear when my Sophie is finally snared in a Nazi trap for the simple crime of smuggling meat to feed her ailing mother.

You can’t help but love her… this incredible Polish beauty. I can clearly see why nearly every man she meets wants her… including the eccentric Nathan. If you are a woman and do not live to meet your Nathan, then you won’t have truly lived.  He is that fatal love that sweeps you off your feet, changes your life and everything you believed in, tears your world apart like a tornado. That love that demands not only your heart but your whole being.

This incredible story will see you wear Sophie’s, Nathan’s and Stingo’s shoes all in turn. You will be plunged into the treacherous, dangerous Nazi camps where you’ll be confronted with human evil at its worst: boring, monotonous evil. You will gaily follow the trio as they live life like never before during that summer. You will shiver in fear  when you come face to face with Nathan’s demons and you will sigh as Stingo battles with heartbreak after heartbreak; dryspell after dryspell… But most importantly, you’ll struggle to understand Sophie and the choices she has to make.

I dare say that this book will tug at your heartstrings, at the very least.

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