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Customer Review

33 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Canon Is Incomplete Without This Novel, March 2, 2000
This review is from: Sophie's Choice (Modern Library) (Hardcover)
Often compared by literary critics to Toni Morrison's 1987 Beloved, for the choices women and mothers are forced into under the most desperate of circumstances and conditions, William Styron's 1979 novel Sophie's Choice is a non-step textual tugging at the heart. In spite of the long passages replete with narrator Stingo's onanistic details (he hasn't gotten any, so the irony is, of course, that he lives in a place called the "pink palace"...hmmm...what's that a euphemism for?), this novel of a Holocaust survivor is not easily put out of one's memory. There are few books I internalize and metaphorize and carry around with me; this is one of those books. The humorous description of the McGraw/Hill publishing offices in Manhattan in the late 40s is a superbly hilarious way to open this novel. We are then introduced, at a rooming house in Brooklyn, to Sophie Z. and Nathan Landau, two of the novel's central characters. We learn that Sophie is a Catholic Pole who survived Auschwitz, but is still haunted by a "choice" she was forced to make while there. I agree with my fellow critic who states that the scene of Sophie's choice (set in the novel on April 1st, nonetheless, echoing, I would assume, Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man)is so dramatically underplayed that I had to re-read it three times to make certain I didn't miss some critical nuance. Styron's choosing to portray the scene from which the novel's title comes as quietly and near the end as possible is a stroke of literary brilliance and keeps the reader page turning without end to find the answer to the question: What was the "choice"? Of course, in the course of the novel, Sophie Z. is faced with numerous choices, but only one choice matters; no, scratch that, all her choices matter, but this one choice is the most soul destructive of all; the self she fled with will ultimately be destroyed by a Brooklyn Jew. Forget the film; it damages this beloved text like any film does. William Styron's brilliance and specificity create a novel (based on a true story--in part, from Olga Legnya's Five Chimneys, which Styron discusses in the re-released 1999 afterword) that deals not only with the Holocaust and its implications for discussion and analysis (Sophie is a Catholic Pole, after all, not a Jew) but with the more mundane factors in life--like brilliance hindered by madness and insanity. A very sharp and unforgettable reading experience. I ask you to approach it with an open heart.
--dan
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