Monday, September 10, 2007

sophie's choice

My book group discussed Sophie's Choice this afternoon. What a book. William Styron tackles huge issues -- the Holocaust, slavery and reconstruction, personal relationships, family relationships, mental illness, depression, addiction, memory and loss....I couldn't even delight in the myriad of four letter words used throughout because of the large amount of anger and violence mixed in.
That said, I can't imagine now having NOT read this book, and I will be thinking about it for a long long time. For my introduction at book group, I found three instances of "Sophie's Choice" being used in current conversation -- in reference to the EPA choosing whether to prevent deaths from air pollution or water polution, in an advertising agency choosing whether to try something new and potentially fail or use previously successful strategies that might potentially fail, or in choosing which Hilton sister is more useless. We had an interesting discussion of when it was appropriate to refer to something as "Sophie's Choice."
I also watched the movie last night, and I think that the Holocaust-focused film does a disservice to the book, which asks the reader to think about US slavery and race issues in both the South and the North in relation and comparison to the Holocaust's slavery and race issues in work and concentration camps. By cutting out most of the references to the US's racially charged past (and present), the movie lets the viewer feel like Sophie's choice is part of the European and historical other and not relevant to them here and now. I read a great quote in some literary criticism (Southern Literary Journal, Fall 2001) where a fan told Styron "The absence of any historical memory in this country is simply bizarre." and I agree -- That is what I believe Sophie's Choice is about -- recognizing how the domination of one people over another leads to the destruction of both -- and that on the small, large, local, foreign, historical or futuristic scale this pattern will always be destructive to those involved. I'm not sure that Styron offers us a solution to inhumanity, but he closes the book with hope. "This was not judgement day - only morning. Morning: excellent and fair."
I checked it out. 515 pages.


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