I recently finished reading another novel – one which, on a normal day, I wouldn’t really pick up if I wandered into a book store back home. I guess that’s one of the great things about traveling – it makes you try new things, not just in the city you’re visiting but it may stretch you so far out of your comfort zone that you decide to try new things personally as well. I should also say, that being a scientist doesn’t mean all things philosophy-related does not interest me – in fact there are many times, when I sit in the solitude of my own company and dwell on the universe and it’s mysteriousness. That’s why I was rather intrigued after reading the blurb for Sophie’s World and had no problem spending 100 RMB to purchase this book. Sure, that’s pretty expensive considering you most likely can order a copy online for about one fifth of the price. Oh well. It was an impulsive buy and truth be told, there’s something I love about wandering inside a bookstore and leaving with a neatly wrapped book for myself.
From the endless reviews I’ve read of Sophie’s World, many are happy to state that this is a clear and concise history of philosophy made easy for almost any person to understand. The story centers around fourteen-year-old Sophie Amundsen who one day comes home from school to find two notes in her mailbox. These notes have two mysterious questions written on them: “Who are you?” and “Where does the world come from?” This is the start of her philosophical journey, seeing her enroll in an unusual kind of philosophy correspondence course with a mysterious unknown teacher. Apart from these lessons, Sophie also starts receiving postcards addressed to a girl around the same age as her. Despite being confused, she is sure that this girl and the philosophy course must somehow be connected. Whilst learning about Socrates, Plato and other great philosophers, she also realizes that she will have to use this knowledge to solve the mystery regarding this strange girl.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jostein Gaarder was born in Oslo, Norway, in 1952. He taught high-school philosophy for several years before publishing a collection of short stories in 1986 followed by his first two novels, The Solitaire Mystery and Sophie’s World.
AN EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK
For the third time Sophie went to the mailbox. The mailman had just delivered the day’s mail. Sophie fished out a bulky pile of junk mail, periodicals, and a couple of letters for her mother. There was also a postcard of a tropical beach. She turned the card over. It had a Norwegian stamp on it and was postmarked “UN Battalion.” Could it be from Dad? But wasn’t he in a completely different place? It wasn’t his handwriting either.
Sophie felt her pulse quicken a little as she saw who the postcard was addressed to: “Hilde Møller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen, 3 Clover Close . . .” The rest of the address was correct. The card read:
Happy 15th birthday! As I’m sure you’ll understand, I want to give you a present that will help you grow. Forgive me for sending the card c/o Sophie. It was the easiest way.
Love from Dad.
Sophie raced back to the house and into the kitchen. Her mind was in a turmoil. Who was this “Hilde,” whose fifteenth birthday was just a month before her own?
Sophie got out the telephone book. There were a lot of people called Møller, and quite a few called Knag. But there was nobody in the entire directory called Møller Knag.
She examined the mysterious card again. It certainly seemed genuine enough; it had a stamp and a postmark.
Why would a father send a birthday card to Sophie’s address when it was quite obviously intended to go somewhere else? What kind of father would cheat his own daughter of a birthday card by purposely sending it astray? How could it be “the easiest way”? And above all, how was she supposed to trace this Hilde person?
So now Sophie had another problem to worry about. She tried to get her thoughts in order:
This afternoon, in the space of two short hours, she had been presented with three problems. The first problem was who had put the two white envelopes in her mailbox. The second was the difficult questions these letters contained. The third problem was who Hilde Møller Knag could be, and why Sophie had been sent her birthday card. She was sure that the three problems were interconnected in some way. They had to be, because until today she had lived a perfectly ordinary life.
For me, this was an interesting yet difficult read that came across as a textbook rather than a novel. The overall story line is good as Gaarder tries to portray some philosophy lessons through the fictional characters but the pages of philosophy and history were, at times, difficult to muster through.
Have you read Sophie’s World? What did you think of this book? Leave me a comment below!