This Week’s Selection
‘Sophie’s World’, by Jostein Gaarder
You really have a penchant for selecting strange, unfamiliar books, don’t you?
That’s what I thought too when my Editor recommended I read ‘Sophie’s World’. “Never heard of it“, I declared. “Read it“, she urged. “You won’t be disappointed”. And I’m glad I did.
If you say so. Does it have all the, er, familiar ingredients?
You have such limited imagination! ‘Sophie’s World’ is a very different kind of book. For one, it is really the history of Western philosophy over the last couple of thousand years. But, it is the manner in which the material is presented that makes it so… novel?
Well, the story is told through the eyes of a 15-year old, Sophie Amundsen. She’s not your usual pubescent teen, interested only in bubble-gum pop princesses, boys, dating and the like. She’s interested in life’s larger questions that have begun to pop up in her head. Who am I? Where has the world come from? Much to the consternation of her best friend, Joanna Sophie begins to lose interest in simple everyday pleasures such as badminton, cards etc.
Her all-consuming obsession is now the arrival of the post, with the letters from her mysterious correspondent. Each letter contains a question which sets Sophie off on a chain of thinking and searching for answers.
Weeeeeellll… I don’t know, somehow the book strikes me as heavy reading.
Early on, Gaarder weaves in a fiendishly subtle attempt to ensure that the reader doesn‘t summarily dismiss his work as being too serious, too not-for-me. ’The only quality we require to be good philosophers is the faculty of wonder’, Sophie’s mysterious correspondent (we later learn his name is Alberto Knox) declares.
What’s interesting about the book is its format. As anyone who has ever ventured to read ‘The Story of Philosophy’ by Will Durant - or closer home, one of Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s works - will attest, reading and understanding philosophy is no easy task for the lay reader, not given to abstract speculation in the normal course of things. Seen in that light, Gaarder’s effort deserves to be applauded.
So, should I go boldly where no man has ever gone before and all that…?
Never judge a book by its cover, but by its contents alone. The book has been a best-seller in its native Norway and elsewhere in the world too. Maybe, I’ll get some intelligent questions from you the next time around too!
513 pages. Published by Berkley/Penguin. Price: Rs. 254/10
Next week’s selection: Jonathan Livingston Seagull, by Richard Bach
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Copyright, The Economic Times, 2005