Have you ever had a book that just keeps coming back around? Once it reaches your radar, it seems to show up everywhere. In fact you see it so much you just want to scream! This happens frequently with those pieces of literature that become classics not simply because of the amount of time they have survived, but because of the impact they have on people. You know the ones I mean: To Kill A Mockingbird, The Scarlet Letter, Les Miserables, Of Mice And Men. These are the books that once broached – usually in school – keep you revisiting them for the rest of your life. Not only did these books challenge the status quo of the day, they continue to do so generations later, demanding that the reader take another look at the world they live in.
Sophie’s Choice is just such a book. It is not an easy read. The subject is painful in the extreme; emotionally, mentally, and even physically. The detail and descriptions make for an amazingly vivid read, but one that is hard to get through.
I didn’t like the construction of the writing. At times it seemed almost burdensome — it just goes on and on forever! Many passages are so overdone that it tries the reader's patience. I would read a hundred pages, and close the book feeling like I was still in the same place I was when I started. I don’t know if this was a product of the writing style alone or the style combined with the depth of the descriptions and the harrowing subject matter, but it made it a struggle to focus for long periods of time.
What did I like about the book? Well, my positive responses were as powerful as the negative! It is a masterful story beautifully told, and its impact is so deep that it demands to be read more than once, to take in everything that the author has to share.
The comparison between the Civil War South and the Polish struggle in the face of Nazi oppression is not only unusual but extremely powerful. These are two periods and places in history that I would never have thought of comparing — but here the reader finds themselves experiencing a huge moment of revelation. The comparison of the horrors of the concentration camps, the degradation, murder, and mayhem, with the effects and experiences of slavery in the American South is painfully startling. The reader's understanding of both events is restructured into a larger, and more appreciative, whole. The novel vividly reveals the way residual damage persists through to modern culture in both of these societies, whilst also showing the effect of a clash between a struggle for freedom from oppression versus the fight for survival of a very proud way of life. It is only in the hands of a gifted writer that these two presentations can justifiably sit side by side in both their power and their horror.
If you are looking for an easy read, this book does not qualify. But if you are looking for a book that is honest, almost brutally so, and one that belongs on the list of literary classics, then Sophie's Choice is a must. But don’t approach it expecting it to be a great read. Most great books are great because they are not either wonderful or horrible, but a mixture of both, and they make us reevaluate our world as we know it, and restructure our perceptions based on life as seen through someone else’s eyes.