Book Review of Sophie’s World

Mukhtar Ahmad Farooqi

Title Sophie’s World
Author JosteinGaarder
Language Norweigian
Translated into English Paulette Moller
Genre Philosophical Novel
Publication date 1991
Published in English 1994
Publisher Phoenix ,Berkley Books,Dolphin
Pages 518

About the Book
The bookSophie’s World (Norwegian: Sofiesverden) has been written by Norwegian writer JosteinGaarder and was first published in 1991.This novel was translated into English by Paulette Moller and became the best selling book in the world in year 1995. This novel has been translated into around 59 languages so far. The book derives its name from a teenage girl Sophie Amundsen around whom the whole novel revolves who is introduced to a philosophy course in a strange manner by a mysterious individual.
Summary
Sophie Amundsen is a 14-year-old girl living in Norway. Sheis introduced to the correspondence course in philosophyby Alberto Knox, a middle-aged philosopher in a rather bizarre manner. One day upon arriving home from school, Sophie discovers that there are two anonymous letters in the mailbox addressed to her. When she opens the envelops, she findpaper slips not bigger than the envelop itself containing two typed questions ‘Who are you?’ and ‘Where does the world come from?’. These questions jolted Sophie out of her everyday existence and introduced her to the great riddles of universe. Third time she receives a postcard addressed to Hilde Moller Knag wishing her 15th birthday which she was about to turn.Afterwards, she receives a packet of papers, part of a course in philosophy. Sophie, without the knowledge of her mother, becomes the student of an old philosopher, Alberto Knox .Alberto teaches her about the history of philosophy initially through correspondence mode but eventually the two of them meet up in person. Alberto tells Sophie that philosophy is relevant to life and that if we do not question and ponder our very existence we are not really living. After receiving few packages, Sophie starts questioning her mother with philosophical questions who being unable to answer thought that there was something fishy going on with her daughter. In the beginning Alberto used to deliver the packages through mailbox but later sent the same via his dog named Hermes. He proceeds to go through the history of western philosophy. He teaches Sophie about the ancient myths that people had in the earlier days and formed a mythological world view before they tried to come up with natural explanations for the processes in the world. Then she learns about the natural philosophers who were mainly concerned with the natural world and its processes. Then they move to Democritus and his theory of indivisible atoms underlying all of nature as well as the concept of fate. While she was taking the philosophy course, Sophie receives a strange postcard sent to Hilde Moller Knag, care of Sophie. The postcard is from Hilde’s father and wishes Hilde happy birthday. This post card confuses her, and more so when she finds a scarf with Hilde’s name on it. She was unsure of all this what was happening but she had belief that Hilde and the philosophy course must somehow be connected. Next she is introduced to Socrates, who despite not writing anything himself is the most enigmatic figure in the history of philosophy. Whatever is known to us about the life and philosophy of Socrates is through the writings of his pupil Plato. Socrates maintained that he who was wise enough to know that he knew nothing. His art of discourse which we call Socratic Irony enabled him to expose the people’s weaknesses which probably became the cause of his enforced death. Then Alberto sends her a video that shows him in Acropolis a city in present day Athens and which seems to go back in time to ancient Athens. Then she is taught about the philosophical notions of Plato and his world of ideas and his concept of Darkness of Cave. Manner in which Darkness of Cave is explained by the author is praiseworthy. Next she learns about the teachings of Aristotle, who critiqued Plato, classified much of the natural world, and founded logic and our theory of concepts. Sophie continued her philosophy course but the Hilde situation begins to get more complicated when she finds many more postcards addressed to Hilde, and some of them with June 15 date, the day when Sophie will turn 15. She shares this detail with her best friend Joanna. These girls could not figure out the strange things that were happening. In one of the postcards Hilde is told that one day she will meet Sophie and also mentions Joanna. Sophie’s and her mother’s relationship starts to complicated as she tried both to hide the correspondence with Alberto and to practice her philosophical thinking on her mom. Her mother thought that Sophie had fell in love with some one that is why she is behaving in such a manner.
The author tries to teach various philosophical notions through story telling that starts off as easy to read, but becomes more difficult and confusing to follow in the later part. The book is recommended for all those people who have taste for intellectual readings and inquisitive bent of mind.
Meanwhile in school, she is asked by her religious knowledge teacher to write about conscience which she beautifully explains that conscience is people’s ability to respond to right and wrong, and makes an inalienable association between common sense and conscience. Without telling anything to Alberto, Sophie visits Majors Cabin where she is puzzled by the brass mirror and two paintings, one entitled, “Berkeley,” the other entitled, “Bjerkley.” She learns about Jesus and the meeting of Indo-European and Semitic culture, St. Augustine, St. Aquinas. Then she is introduced to how the christianization of Greek philosophy occurred in the Middle Ages. While learning about Middle Ages, Sophie is told the meaning of her name. In Greek the female side of god is called Sophia which means wisdom. Alberto helps Sophie know about the Renaissancethe history of the Renaissance in the 15th and 16th centuries and the extremes of the Baroque. During this period, Europe embraced the doctrine of humanism. She come to know that it was during this time that Martin Luther launched the Protestant reformation, after which the modern sects of Christianity were established. He teaches her about Descartes, who is considered the father of modern western philosophy. He doubted, and by doing so knew at least that he could doubt as he wanted to clear all the rubble offsite. They move on to Spinoza who applied historical interpretation to Bible. He questioned man’s free will, arguing that the world is predetermined. Then they move on to the empiricists. Locke believed in natural rights and that everything we know is gained from experience. According to him mind at the time of birth is tabula rasa and compared it to an unfurnished room. Hume had an important influence on Kant, showed that our actions are guided by feelings and warned against making laws based upon our experiences alone. Berkeley who believed in spirit is most important to Sophie because he suggested our entire lives were inside the mind of God .Alberto then tells Sophie that our lives are inside the mind of Hilde’s father,Albert Knag. Sophie concludes her philosophy course with Alberto by learning about the 20th century Existentialists, like Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir. At this point the story taken a turn and switches to Hilde’s point of view. Alberto devises a plan so that he and Sophie can finally escape Albert’s imagination. They executed that plan ick is on Midsummer’s Eve, during a “philosophical garden party” that Sophie and her mother arranged to celebrate Sophie’s fifteenth birthday. Hilde receives a birthday gift from her father entitled Sophie’s World on her 15th birthday.She gets enthralled after reading the book.She is now certain that Sophie exists, that she is not mere a bookish character. He teaches Sophie about the Enlightenment and its humanistic values, unification of empiricist and rationalist thought, Hegel’s dialectical view of history, and Kierkegaard’s belief that existence precedes essence. They rush through the philosophies of Marx, Darwin, Freud, and Sartre, then at the end of Sophie’s World, the book that Hilde was reading, while at a philosophical party for Sophie on June 15, Alberto and Sophie disappear. Hilde’s father returned home and they talk about the book, and Hilde is sure that Sophie exists somewhere. The party soon turned into absolute chaos as Albert Knag lords his control over the world, informs everyone that the world they live in is fictional but the guests react with rage, accusing him of instilling dangerous values in the children. After Darwin, the author loses his plot but tries to regain it while explaining Big Bang. He explains how everything is made up of the same material, which exploded outward at the beginning of time. Sophie and Alberto wanted to get back at the author because they felt their dignity as persons had been robbed. Being fictional, Alberto and Sophie cannot interact with anything in the real world as don’t have free will since their every thought and action is determined by the author’s imagination. They wanted to get out of this book and succeeded in jumping into the real world. But being fictional characters in a novel, they become invisible in end the again.
Conclusion: Sophie’s World is a fascinating and intriguing novel that gives a detailed synopsis of the world’s major western philosophers, systems, or contexts. The author tries to teach various philosophical notions through story telling that starts off as easy to read, but becomes more difficult and confusing to follow in the later part. The book is recommended for all those people who have taste for intellectual readings and inquisitive bent of mind.
(The Writer is a freelancer. Views are his own mukhtar.farooqi37@gmail.com)

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