Archive | 9:47 AM

Book Review: Sophie’s Choice by William Styron (3/5)

13 Feb

I started this book thinking I needed to finish it for a 2022 challenge, but realized I could take my time with it. I was glad because it was a much slower (and longer) read than I’d originally anticipated. It took me almost three months.


Cover image via Amazon

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron

Summary from Amazon:

Three stories are told: a young Southerner wants to become a writer; a turbulent love-hate affair between a brilliant Jew and a beautiful Polish woman; and of an awful wound in that woman’s past–one that impels both Sophie and Nathan toward destruction.

I had a lot of friends who were shocked I didn’t know how this book ended. I’m very thankful that it wasn’t spoiled for me. I had no idea what I was getting into. However, it took me forever to get there. The first chapter of this book was almost insufferable to me. Stingo is working a dead-end job that he hates and complains about it for 40 pages. It was a rough start and I still don’t know why the book would have started that way. I wish it had moved forward faster. I started finally being interested when Sophie talked about her past, but even those parts seemed to drag a lot at first. There were a lot of side-characters I found frustrating (Leslie!) and didn’t seem to add to the plot at all. It felt like a lot of things were there to distract me from Sophie and her titular choice. The scene in question happened so fast and took me by surprise. I read it twice. In a five hundred page novel, it’s shocking something would happen so fast.

Styron drew some amazing characters. Nathan was a great creation. I think knowing what I know about him by the end, it would be interesting to revisit the scenes with him earlier in the story and see if I can pick up any hint of it. Sophie was great as well. She carries so much sorrow and grief and is also so loving and joyful. Human’s aren’t flat and these characters weren’t either. I thought that development was the highlight of the book for me.

Though I didn’t like him, Nathan was my favorite character. I thought he was the most interesting and he always kept the scenes moving along well and could be counted on to add color and character to whatever was happening. Seeing how he grew in Stingo’s eyes and then how that changed from things Sophie and his brother shared was really interesting and very well written.

If I’d read this book two years ago, I don’t know if I would have reacted to the ending in the same way I do now. Spoilers here for the ‘choice’ so skip this paragraph if you don’t want to read those. Before I’d had a child, this would still have been gut wrenching, but after giving birth and raising my kid, even for their short time here with me so far, this hit differently. Knowing that your child was going to die and suffer and that you were forced to choose that for them, is unbearable. There wasn’t a good choice for Sophie. Anything she did was going to be impossible to live with. Choosing nothing was worse. I hugged my toddler extra close the morning after finishing this book.


William Styron Image via Wikipedia

I thought the book picked up when Sophie revealed the truth about Nathan’s moods. Knowing some of the reasoning for his highs and lows and why he would go between happiness and joy to anger and angst and seem to forget things made a lot of sense and I was interested to learn about Sophie and Nathan’s history together and how their relationship had changed and evolved. It made me angry with Sophie so accompanying that with her history and the anguish she’d been through helped me understand her and her relationship with Nathan.

The first few hundred pages were a drag. I already mentioned the first chapter. But the next few weren’t much easier to read. Meeting Sophie and Nathan was nowhere near as great as really getting to know them as we did later. I was so bored with it. It took me going on vacation and having limited internet to really focus on this book and get into the story enough to power through it. I started to like the story more and it was interesting but it was still a chore.

We never really know another person. Sophie was very transparent with Stingo and told him a lot about her life so that we could know her and understand what she’d been through as much as possible. It’s hard to know why someone does what they do. As we get to know Nathan and Sophie, the end of their story becomes more and more clear and we’re less shocked by it when it happens. It’s hard to get into someone’s head. While it’s a little surprising Stingo could get to know someone as well as he does in a summer, it’s a good example of how many layers a human can have.

Writer’s Takeaway- There were too many times I found myself thinking “How is this relevant to the plot?” while reading this. It took me out of the story and I would lose interest and pick up other things or not read at all. In the end, many times it wasn’t relevant and I felt vindicated. It can be hard to cut out scenes or characters you’re proud of or have an emotional attachment to for some reason. I feel like Styron didn’t want to cut working at McGraw Hill or Leslie Lapidus. I would have enjoyed the book much more without them.

An amazing ending, but far too much buildup to get there. Three out of Five Stars.

This book fulfilled the 1940-1959 time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge 2023.

Until next time, write on.

You can follow me on GoodreadsFacebookTwitterPinterest, and Instagram. I’m available via email at And as always, feel free to leave a comment!

Some of the links on this post may be affiliate links. Taking on a World of Words is a participant in affiliate programs designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by linking to products. If you purchase a product or service through an affiliate link, your cost will be the same but Sam will automatically receive a small commission. Your support is greatly appreciated.

Related Posts:
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron | The Quiet Voice
Sophie’s Choice by William Styron | Lois Weisberg Book Reviews
Top 100 Novels #40: Sophie’s Choice | News from the San Diego Becks