Sophie’s Choice – William Styron

With the sheer abundance of novels that deal with the Holocaust one might feel the need to say ‘another one?’ but I must say that I am glad I took the time to read this story.


Styron’s tale focuses around young Stingo, a struggling writer in 1940’s New York who befriends Nathan, a  biologist working at Pfizer, and Sophie, survivor of the horrors of the Holocaust at Auschwitz.  The latter are lovers who bring Stingo into their relationship during that summer in Brooklyn and through the tumult of their relationship he comes to learn the story of Sophie’s ordeal in Auschwitz and the terrible choice she is forced to make.


I enjoy reading stories with a strong philosophical context such as this.  Near the end of the book was a query that I feel bears repeating:


Query: “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?”

And the answer: “Where was man?”


Which is quite the interesting question as the Holocaust is probably the best known example of man’s inhumanity to man.  Another quote of sorts that has stuck with me since I first started studying the second world war in any depth was something that one of my high school history teachers said: ‘Not all Germans were Nazis and not all Nazis were German.”  Sophie’s Choice is a tale that brings light to that fact more so than any book that I can recall reading in recent memory.


The frequent mentions of psychoanalysis and the extremely violent schizophrenic spells of Nathan lead me to believe that Sophie was exhibiting her thanatos.  Love Nathan she might, but a woman riddled with so much guilt after having to choose which child she sends to death is likely to attach herself to someone with a death wish.  I don’t think that there are many people who wold be able to survive a choice like that and come out unscathed.


Race relations are a substantial part of this book, as one would expect.  Every time I read a passage about the slaughter of the Jews and the Poles, or any other nationality or race, a quote from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows kept running through my mind:


“ . . . it’s one short step from “wizards first” to “purebloods first”, and then to “Death Eaters. . . . We’re all human, aren’t we?  Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.” (Deathly Hallows, p. 357, UK Ed.)


Isn’t that essentially what was happening in the Holocaust?  It started with the Jews, yes, but if the Nazis were allowed to continue it would have been the Poles, then the French, then . . . on and on until it was only the Nazis left.  And this, again folks, certainly illustrates the allegorical nature of Harry Potter.


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