Saturday, January 30, 2016

Sofie's Choice by William Styron

This is a book steeped in contradictions.  The main character, Sophie, is the epitome of this. She is very tragic and yet beautiful, a liar that is honest in her lies, she is utterly depressed and then manically happy, she is a survivor but also a victim.  I read the book before I saw the movie so I already had a notion of what Sophie looked like before she was there on the screen. 

The narrator in this movie is William Styron's alter ego - based loosely on himself - a Southerner from tidewater Virginia - that I now affectionately remember by his nickname - Stingo.  After quitting his job at a publishing house, Stingo, an aspiring writer, rents a room in Brooklyn which he refers to as the Pink Palace and meets Nathan Landau. Nathan is a compelling but very deeply disturbed Jewish intellectual who works at Pfizer and who has singlehandedly nursed a Polish WWII victim, Sophie Zawistowska, back to health. At the time that Stingo meets them, the pair have become lovers. Stingo is drawn to his new friends but, the longer that he spends with them, the longer he realizes that there is a very, very dense fog surrounding them - he witnesses physical violence and emotional abuse in their relationship. As the novel progresses, Sophie describes her life before and during WWII to Stingo. Sophie was a Polish Catholic, married with two children and yet she was seemingly persecuted by the Nazis with the same vitriol as the Jews that the Nazis strove to exterminate. Somehow, Sophie survived being sent to Auschwitz, in the sense that she didn't die, but she was forced to make a terrible, unimaginable choice.

The book started off slowly, I won't lie. But once Stingo met Sophie and Nathan, I was absolutely hooked. What was fascinating to me was that Styron took on a number of intense themes that are still relevant today: domestic violence, the extermination of one group of people by another, mental health and its treatment (or lack of it), and oppression in America. He even attempts to draw a parallel between the oppression of African Americans in the South with those of the oppressed groups during World War II.  And yet, even with these intense themes, Styron did not sacrifice the story or plot. It is a story that draws you and keeps you interested through the entire 515 pages.  I simply could not look away from the words on the page, even though I had some idea of what was going to happen.  Styron's characters were also three dimensional. I found myself able to sympathize with Sophie as well as put myself in her shoes, even at the worst of times.  

William Styron did a wonderful job in telling a horrendously hideous story in a sensitive and bearable way. He layered the story - it didn't go in chronological order - which was a masterful way of building the tension until the ultimate moment of choice. I found myself able to digest and really think about her story and the tragedy that she experienced in a way that I perhaps couldn't if it had been done chronologically. Definitely a must read.  

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hiatus is broken, a cool website and some great book podcasts


I so want this coffee mug because I feel like it totally defines my relationship with books. Give me a good one and we can't be separated.  Anyways, I've been on a bit of a hiatus lately because I've just been so busy that I haven't gotten much done in the way of reading - between starting a new job, taking care of my home and children, the holidays and coaching soccer, i have very little time. But I'm back now and am reading two books currently:


  • Sophie's Choice by William Styron. This novel is approximately 500 pages long (and I love every word of it so far!) and won the National Book Award in 1980 - it was published in 1979.  I think everyone is familiar with the premise of this story - it's become an American pop culture reference for having to make a choice between two unfathomable, terrible options.  I've always had a morbid fascination with the Holocaust in the sense that I simply can't understand what would drive anyone to commit mass murder actively or passively participate by not doing anything to work against it, making this novel right up my alley. I've read Anne Frank's Diary, The Boy with the Striped Pajamas, The Book Thief, Schindler's List, The Reader and Hitler's Willing Executioners. I also have  Night on my Nightstand, to be read. If anyone has any other good books about this topic, please post in the comments. :)
  • Drums Of Autumn by Diana Gabaldon. This is the fourth book in the Outlander series. I love this series of books.  I even have a facebook group page dedicated to it (go to it and ask to join - it's a closed group but I'm happy to talk to you about joining and admit you to the inner sanctum!). I even went to see her at this showing!
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I have found a number of really good reading/book podcasts that get me through the seeming drought of reading.  I faithfully listen to all of them and urge you to give them a try!

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There are some really nifty book websites out there that you should check out!
  • Goodreads - I use it to organize what I'm reading and what I've read. There are also discussion groups that are a wealth of knowledge. My profile is here.
  • Serial box - online serialized novels. Pretty cool.

My Education by Susan Choi

I admit it: I have a thing about academic novels.  And by that, I  mean novels that occur on campuses and are about characters that are ent...