book review

Sophie’s World: Philosophy 101

What I found to be a really good read of fiction is Sophie’s World, a novel by Jostein Gaarder. It was written in 1991 and translated from its original Norwegian. The translation is a well balanced bit of writing, and it was easy to read for me.  I don’t speak Norwegian, so I am not likely to go and purchase  one in the original language.  The paperback was published in 2007, and a hardcover edition in 2010.

I’m a big science-fiction buff, and the fact Sophie is asked “who are you?” strikes me as very much Babylon 5.  It contains more than a bit of philosophy, but I never felt it dragged and took away from the book.  I almost felt that Gaarder has a bit of a love for pop culture and science fiction in the way he presented his writing.  It can be a bit of a tough go, again translations sometimes don’t have the true meaning of the original but it’s certainly one I enjoyed.

The story combines a mystery with lessons on philosophy. The protagonists are a teenage girl and her middle-aged male mentor, who together endeavour to solve a mystery applying the lessons learned from the masters of philosophy. This is what makes Sophie’s World: A Novel About the History of Philosophy (FSG Classics) such a well written novel.  The letters and the growth of the the teen style  book was also intriguing for me since it’s not exactly a teen novel but it does feel very much as if it is.

The story unfolds from the perspective of Sophie, along with her typical early teenage angsts and peeves, yet showing herself to be a keen student and remarkable sleuth as she uses her mentor’s philosophy lessons as tools to solving the mystery.  It’s her world, her intelligence and her mentor, and yet it’s philosophy as its most basic.

This is an original and very readable story.

For the record, as I enjoy looking at the reviews on Amazon, I’ve noted that most of the more critical one star reviews were because it has philosophy basics.  It’s a novel, I quite understand, but it is also for the mind, and in this regard I found a well thought out balance.  I needed the mystery and the people as much as the author’s take on the subject of philosophy.  The five and four star reviews were also consistent with my own view of the book, it’s original and well balanced.  The subtitle, ‘a novel about the history of philosophy’ makes me wonder if the people who bought it understood the background to the novel.  Most who gave it rave reviews, made much of the subtitle.  It’s certainly not a lie to say it’s a philosophy book, nor is it a lie to say it’s not a textbook either.  For a university student, this is a good quick read, and one which again I’d recommend and would give four stars.

The mystery will captivate the reader, while the philosophy lessons will inform. The two are blended so well that the story line works just right, even as a translation.

One Comment

  • Lois

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    I'm left not asking about why i should read this, but what you think of this story. I have read it before, and I am in agreement with your summary.