Who are you? Where does the world come from?
These are two questions Sophie Amundsen comes across on two notes found in her mailbox when she comes home from school one day. Soon she finds herself enrolled in a philosophy course via correspondence with a mysterious man named Alberto Knox. Through him, she learns of the philosophy greats like Socrates, Aristotle and Marx, as well as their methods to their ways of thinking.
All the while taking this course, Sophie also receives letters addressed to a girl her age named Hilde, and when she and Alberto collaborate to unravel the mystery regarding the source of the letters, the reality of the matter becomes far more complex than even Freud would be able to comprehend.
That’s just a brief, spoiler-free look at what Jostein Gaarder’s international bestseller “Sophie’s World” is about. Originally released in his native country of Norway in 1991 and translated into English in 1994, I found the book worthy of serving the purpose of introduce young people to philosophy; much like how Sophie has the course serve the same purpose. That’s what first captivated me to read the book. But as the mystery unfolded regarding the source of the letters and who Hilde was, that’s when I realized why this novel is as renowned as it is.
I can also attest to this book not being one for everyone. If you’re expecting a light reading experience, then you might as well read something else. The book goes hardcore on Sophie’s philosophy course, for every chapter, you can expect her- as well as possibly yourself- to learn something new from the incredibly long history of philosophy.
As much as the lessons played into the outcome in the end, I found their frequent recurrences to also be a flaw in the flow of the overall novel. There were very few breaks in between lessons where Sophie was off doing something other than attending to her coursework, and eventual lectures, with Alberto. It was very stop-and-go; at times to where it didn’t even read like a novel at all.
But in that sense, it works, especially as the conversation goes back and forth between Sophie’s comments and questions and Alberto’s loaded lectures on philosophy. Its styling may even work on someone who probably wouldn’t be able to gain much about the subject matter from just reading a textbook.
“Sophie’s World” is a wise book to read at some point in life. It never hurts to let just a little bit of philosophy into your life to stimulate your mind. Perhaps after reading the book, you’d be able to answer the first two questions in the beginning with not so much precise answers, but theories with hints of certainty to them.