"Sophie's World"

Sophie's World, A Novel About the History of Philosophy by Jostein Gaarder

This book left ten thousand thoughts banging and clanging in my head. The characters are refusing to evaporate as is required of them after the last page is turned and they insist on trying to stay real. That is, if they ever were real. In this story inside of a story the line between what is real and what isn't gets blurry.

 I've never read anything quite like this. It's fiction, but as the subtitle says, it's also a history of philosophy. That may sound a bit daunting but really it isn't because it's so well done. Sophie, the main character, is almost 15 years old when she receives a letter asking "Who are you?". This is soon followed by others from a man who has taken it upon himself to be Sophie's philosophy teacher, beginning with the ancient thinkers and working through history right up to modern day. It was fascinating.

It's written clearly and in language the average reader can grasp so it never comes off sounding like a textbook. The instruction in philosophy is contained in dialogue that I did find a bit of a stretch sometimes. It seemed like some of Sophie's responses were a tad sophisticated for a 15 year old girl but maybe the Norwegian education system is better than ours. It has been over 20 years since this book came out so maybe things have gone downhill since then. Or maybe things just went a little off in translation.  Whatever; it really didn't matter. It's one of the most interesting things I've ever read.

I can't see how Gaarder held it all straight in his head; the guy must be a genius. I did find a tiny glitch in the story and was feeling rather proud of myself for noticing it, then it slowly dawned on me that there has to be a hundred glitches in a story with this much going on and I only managed to stumble onto one. Sigh.

As Sophie and her teacher progress through their lessons, strange things begin to happen. Other people's lives break through into theirs as if from some other dimension. Early in the book, before any of this happened, I wondered if it was going to get boring. Boy was I wrong. There was so much to think about. By the end it was like trying to play chess, yodel and juggle china at the same time. When I finished it last night, it was hours before I was able to fall asleep.

Don't let that stop you. It was a fun, exciting read, a little Alice In Wonderland crazy toward the end but overall an incredible work of fiction. Do not miss this one. 


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