Book Author: Jostein Gaarder
Book Series: N/A
Genre: I don’t know how to answer that,
First Published: December 1991
As the book was published in 1991, I decided to read it as the reading prompt:
A book set in the decade you are born
I’ll be honest. I had no idea what this book was about before I read it, so I had no idea what to expect. I wasn’t even aware of what genre it would be categorised in—which is interesting in itself. The reason this is so interesting is that the character, Alberto Knox, tells Sophie that one of the key differences between human and animal is that humans like to categorise and order things.
What is a genre if it is not a system designed to help categorise and order something?
She suddenly became aware of the mess surrounding her. Books and Ring Binders lay scattered on the floor… The closet had seven shelves. One for underwear, one for socks and tights, one for jeans.— Jostien Gaardner pp. 91-92
Even after reading the book, I can not pin it to one genre. It’s a mixture of non-fiction and fiction. It’s a ghost story, a mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, realism, an epistolary, horror… it is a mixture of everything and of nothing. I believe this is on purpose as the book mentions everything is also its opposite.
It’s just as meaningful to say that the world must have had a beginning in time as to say that it had no such beginning —Jostien Gaardner p. 254
The book is designed to get you to think on some of the philosophical theories from the beginning of time to the end of the 20th century.
While reading this book, a random question popped into my mind. How does our body know what to move? We think to ourselves “I want to open the fridge” but we don’t think about what that involves. We don’t think about the tiniest detail.
Imagine if each time you wanted to move you had to say to yourself: Right, now I move the right leg so it levitates above the floor and I place it in front of the left leg. Lowering it back down. I now lift the left leg and place it… you get the idea.
But how does it work if we don’t do this? How?
Similarly, we’ve come to expect it to fall as our understanding of natural law, cause and effect and gravity has taken place. If it hovered, we’d be surprised but a small child may experience both gravity and levitation with the same reaction as they have not become used to the habits of the world yet.
This book is great at getting you thinking. Though I don’t think it would be one you’d want to read in one sitting, though. Honestly, I wish I read this book before I started my Writer’s Responsibility essay.
Sophie is 14 years old and her fifteenth birthday is approaching. She goes about her normal life when one day there is an envelope in the mailbox addressed to her. It is from Alberto Knox and he says he is going to teach her philosophy but there is a danger from Albert Knag (not to be confused with Alberto), can Sophie learn what she needs to to escape Albert’s control? and why does she keep getting postcards adressed to Hilde?
I went into this book completely in the dark. Had no idea what it was about. It starts with Sophie walking home from school with her friend, Joanne. She discovers a letter from Alberto Knox in her mailbox. The letter says he is going to give her a course in Philosophy.
Two questions await her.
Who are you? — Jostien Gaardner p. 4
Where does the world come from? — Jostien Gaardner p. 4
I’ll be absolutely honest and say I had no idea what the plot was at first. But I did feel it was an interesting way for the reader to learn philosophy and I also believed Sophie’s mother would be an obstacle for her learning.
As I worked my way through the book, I began to suspect that the plot twist was that Hilde and Sophie are one of the same. That is, they are the same character. Maybe born in some different era. A past life. What I did not expect is what happened. I’m not going to spoil it for you but if you do read the book, I would like to talk about the ending!
The book uses philosophy to demonstrate it’s plot twist and vice versa. It’s cleverly done and leaves your head spinning as you try to work out, imagine, agree and argue with the book.
I think it is clever how the book combines narrative storytelling and philosophy. It teaches you and entertains at the same way. Gets you thinking and makes your head spin… all the fun of a book.
Several times, my poor brain was creating infinite circles to answer questions that cannot be answered but that is part of the fun!
Philosophy and World Building
It is very hard to review this book without giving too much away as everything links to Philosophy. However, the journey through the development of philosophy is an interesting one. It does not just get Sophie to think of the answers to the questions she finds in her letters but also gets us as the reader to think about the answers.
It starts with philosophers in Ancient Greek and ends at the end of the 20th century (it is written in 1990 after all). Sophie’s World is built around the theories of the philosophers she is learning about. So, don’t be surprised when the book begins to take a sort of fantasy element. The book shares some similarity with Michael Ende’s Neverending-Story
She discovers this when she learns about gravity and cause and effect in the practicals Alberto Knox gives her. As Sophie’s knowledge of natural laws is put to the test, she discovers things that throw her opinions of what is true and what is make-believe out of the window. Perhaps my own opinions have been questioned too.
And like any good story, the character cannot go back and pretend it never happened. Her world is changed forever and it is because of Albert Knag and Hilde, the girl who is a mystery to Sophie until the end of the book.
Sophie’s World and everything that happens in it is well-written and well-crafted as it tells you about Aristotle, Plato, Marx and many many more.
The characters are also well-written and thought out. You learn more about Sophie, Alberto and Hilde as the book develops through the philosophical theories. Sophie’s character particularly develops as she learns more and more. She brings her new knowledge home where it is frowned upon by her mother and her teacher.
Hilde is the mystery of the novel. She is not fully aware of Sophie and Sophie has no idea who she is. But as Sophie starts to complete the course, Hilde’s world and Sophie’s begin to collide and the mystery is cleared up.
Alberto kind of reminds me of the mad scientist, like Walter Bishop from TV show, Fringe. He hates to be wrong and contradicted but he also believes in having an open mind and has a short temper.
All the characters are engaging.
I enjoyed the book but it is definitely not one to read in one sitting. You need time to ponder the questions and theories that the book presents you. Try and form your own opinions on the questions and then see if Alberto can change your mind.
I love the book and it reminds me of other books, such as The Never-Ending Story. If you are interested in philosophy, or if you want a book that gets you thinking, this is the book for you.
While I read it for the “Decade I was born in” prompt it can full under another:
A Micro History.
Are you taking the Pop-Sugar Reading Challenge? What strange philosophical thoughts have come to your mind?