“Someday I will understand Auschwitz. This was a brave statement but innocently absurd. No one will ever understand Auschwitz. What I might have set down with more accuracy would have been: Someday I will write about Sophie’s life and death, and thereby help demonstrate how absolute evil is never extinguished from the world. Auschwitz itself remains inexplicable. The most profound statement yet made about Auschwitz was not a statement at all, but a response.
The query: “At Auschwitz, tell me, where was God?”
I don’t know what to say. This is not an understatement, because I’ve been putting off this review for over a month, hoping the right words would come to me. But they haven’t. I can’t show how this book makes me feel. I can’t find the proper words to say how evil, how tragic beyond words the Holocaust was. I realize now that I can’t find the words because they don’t exist.
The only thing I can say is that we can never forget the horrors that humans can perpetuate on one another. There is no excuse for letting this happen, we all know that. So now what do we do, write about it so people can try to feel the heartbreak? I don’t know if there’s really an answer to that question, so I’ll just say that William Styron did a superb job trying to get us to pay attention.
He crafted the book in an old-fashioned Southern inspired way, slowly starting the novel like it was written to read while lying on a hammock during a hot summer afternoon in the deep south. We don’t even meet Sophie until about page 70 or so, and when that happens you might feel as I did: that there’s something breathtakingly beautiful in her raw pain. She’s not hard or jaded; she just is who she is and the only way we can see the real effects of the emotional turmoil of her “choice” is to take a good, hard look at the abusive relationship she’s in with Nathan.
Styron is brilliant at being subtle in showing readers the why behind the what. Sophie felt she deserved the abusive treatment she received from Nathan, of that there’s no doubt, and we know it’s because she thinks she doesn’t deserve happiness because she must be a monster. What kind of mother does what she did, that’s what she must have been thinking. Styron never comes right out and says this though, instead he preferred to give readers the space they need to let the book lay out for them on its own.
It’s almost flawless.
However, towards the end of the book we see the convergence of the narrator’s voice of Stingo, and the author himself. This is where certain thinks might leave perceptive readers scratching their heads in disbelief, because some of what happens between Sophie and Stingo doesn’t seem like something she would do. At least not at first glance.
Which leaves me wondering if Styron actually knew someone similar to Sophie…
Oh God, I hope not. I want to keep pretending and go on believing that this did not happen to a single person. But it probably did, right? That and so much worse. And why? For cruel amusement? I honestly don’t understand the hatred. I’ve tried to look on forums where white supremacists dwell, and read their wretched posts while I tried not to puke. They simultaneously put Hitler up on a pedestal while denying the Holocaust. They can’t have it both ways and the least they can do is own up to the truth.
Maybe they can’t admit it out loud because deep down they know it’s wrong. Otherwise they would be shouting from the rooftops about how proud they are that Nazis treated human beings worse than most people treat the worst violent criminals in the history of mankind.