William Styron

Inge Morath © The Inge Morath Foundation

William Styron

Sophie's Choice

Read by Wojciech Barczyński, recorded by Radiofonia Association

But now it again becomes necessary to mention that Sophie was not quite straightforward in her recital of past events, even granted that it was her intention to present a very abbreviated account. I would learn this later, when she confessed to me that she left out many crucial facts in the story she told Nathan. She did not actually lie (as she did about one or two important aspects of her life in the account she gave me concerning the early years in Cracow) Nor did she fabricate something or distort anything important; it is easy to substantiate nearly everything she told Nathan that evening. Her brief observation on the function of AuschwitzBirkenau—while of course greatly oversimplified—is basically an accurate one, and she neither exaggerated nor underestimated the nature of her various diseases. About all the rest, there is no reason to doubt anything: her mother and her mother's illness and death, the sequence about the smuggled meat and her own arrest by the Germans followed by her swift deportation to Auschwitz. Why, then, did she leave out certain elements and details that anyone might reasonably have expected her to include? Fatigue and depression that night, certainly. Then in the long run there may have been multiple reasons, but the word `guilt,' I discovered that summer, was often dominant in her vocabulary, and it is now clear to me that a hideous sense of guilt always chiefly governed reassessments she was forced to make of her past. I also came to see that she tended to view her own recent history through a filter of self-loathing—apparently not a rare phenomenon among those who had undergone her particular ordeal. Simone Weil wrote about this kind of suffering: 'Affliction stamps the soul to its very depths with the scorn, the disgust and even the self-hatred and sense of guilt that crime logically should produce but actually does not.' Thus with Sophie it may have been this complex of emotions that caused her to be silent about certain things—this corrosive guilt together with a simple but passionately motivated reticence. Sophie was in general always secretive about her sojourn in the bowels of hell—secretive to the point of obsession—and if that is the way she wanted it, it was, God knows, a position one had to honor.

It should be made plain now, however—although the fact will surely be revealed as this account goes on—that Sophie was able to divulge things to me which she could never in her life tell Nathan. There was an uncomplicated reason for this. She was so chaotically in love with Nathan that it was like dementia, and it is more often than not the person one loves from whom one withholds the most searing truths about one's self, if only out of the very human motive to spare groundless pain.


William Styron

(1925–2006) – an American writer and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, won greatest renown and recognition for his novel Sophie’s Choice published in 1979, and taken to the silver screen by Alan Pakula three years later. It is a story of Sophie who lived for many years and studied in Krakow. During the war, her family were murdered in a concentration camp. After the war, Sophie becomes connected to Nathan, an American Jew of paranoiac tendencies. Pakula’s film raised plenty of emotions and countless controversies. The scenes in the Auschwitz death camp were filmed in Croatia, as a Polish authorities refused to cooperate with the film crew. Meryl Streep received an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her role of Sophie. (ms)

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