Sophie's Choice by William Styron.
Presented by : Anna Dragonette & Maria Julien
Recording of the event : on facebook link below.
- Mukul Ahmed
Anna quoted William Styron’s statement that “A good book should leave you slightly exhausted at the end”… and this book certainly does. The book carries two epigraphs, one pertaining to death and the other concerning “that essential region of the soul where absolute evil confronts brotherhood”.
In this fairly long and very detailed and intense novel the 3 characters who are our main concern are: 1) Sophie, a Polish Catholic woman who has suffered many horrors of World War II and the inhumanity of Nazism. She carries the scars till the end. 2) Nathan, a young and brilliant Jew who is seen to be wonderfully warm, generous and caring but also sometimes inexplicably violent and abusive. 3) Stingo, a young wannabe writer from the south of the US, trying to make ends meet while pursuing his dream of being published. He comes into contact with Sophie and Nathan when he moves to a cheap boarding house in Brooklyn where they also have rooms.
Before he knows it Stingo is included in Sophie and Nathan’s fun activities. He is a recipient of Nathan’s generosity but also witnesses his seemingly insane jealousy and violent fits. He wonders why Sophie tolerates this behavior and stays with Nathan. Gradually it is revealed that she carries a deep-seated sense of guilt (concerning her children who she lost contact with at Auschwitz) which makes her believe that she deserves this ill treatment. Maria, knowledgeable about music, showed us how the classical music of Brahms, Mozart, Beethoven which features in the novel highlights the emotional and dramatic aspect of the relationships.
Putting these 3 very different characters together, the author tries to unravel the cosmic incomprehensibility of evil. Styron has been a controversial author, not least because he insists on seeing the anti-Semitism of the Nazis as only one aspect of human evil. He maintains that the Jews must also acknowledge the suffering of other groups who were Nazi victims. We note that the heroine who has suffered so terribly at the hands of the Nazis is not Jewish but Catholic. Nathan talks to Stingo about the mistreatment of Blacks and the practice of slavery in the South (where Stingo comes from). Styron views anti-Semitism as merely one of many forms of evil in the world, refusing to give it the sensational status often accorded to it. “Endorsement of evil is impenetrable so long as we shrink from trying to penetrate it.”
The audience agreed that the duty of art was to bring out the co-existence of good and evil and man’s relationship with both. The novel, which not everyone present had read, proved to be one worth searching out and reading!
Individual reading of the book could make this more clear.