Sophie's Choice was published by William Styron in 1976 and is probably the best of his half-dozen works. The book tells the story of Stingo, an autobiographical character, and two people he meets after moving to New York City: Nathan, a brilliant and tempermental man and Sophie, a Polish gentile who survived the holocaust.
William Styron discussed his struggles with depression in Darkness made visible, and Sophie's Choice deals with subject matter that goes well beyond depressing to dealing with horror and terror. What is the most extraordinary about this is that for all the fame that the book's eponymys decision has, the book at no point tries to force its story on us. The story, in both its naturalistic prose style and authentic ability of capturing the viewpoint of a young man just out of college, describes how someone just entering adulthood would try to confront the realities of genocide and insanity.
In many ways, sections of this books achieve a surrealistic quality. However, it is not the surrealism of prose experimentation, but the surrealism of actual life. Prose passages detailing the landscape of Brooklyn, trips to the beach and the narrators desperate attempts to get laid contrast with increasingly long, detailed and horrific passages dealing with Sophie's experiences in the Holocaust and Nathan's increasing madness. This is the type of surrealism that I experienced myself going through my late teens and early twenties: the excitement of a first job or a first girlfriend, coupled with the sudden experience that things like that were extremely petty and trivial compared to the pain and horror of the world. Styron, through the narrator, himself acknowledges this in one of the passages of the book that most sticks in my memory: where he talks about the writer George Steiner, who wrote about two seperate streams of time: the stream of time of the camps, where people died constantly, and of the outside world, only miles away, where people went about their business normally. The narrator quotes a letter he wrote at the age of eighteen, dealing with college basketball, and then writes of the fact that 2100 Greek Jews died while he was worried about ball games. He realizes this "terrifying incongruity", but can not explain it.
Whether people will get out of this book what I did, I do not know. However, I think I can say that this book is not William Styron trying to make a political point or worse, use terrible subject matter to make his book appear profound. For me, this is a very natural descritpion of how young people must come face to face with the horror of the world they live in.