Until I read Jostein Gaarder's novel, Sophie's World, I don't think I realized how little I knew about the great ideas of the world. This novel, set in Norway, is about a teenage girl who encounters the subject of philosophy. One day, Sophie returns home from school to find two envelopes waiting for her in the day's mail -- each without a return address, and each containing an eternal question. One inquires, Who are you? The other asks, Where does this world come from? These two questions jolt Sophie out of her familiar notions of the world, as she begins to wonder about what Gaarder calls the "great mysteries of the universe."
The following day she comes home to yet another letter from her cryptic correspondent -- who invites her to embark on a journey into the history of human thought. But first she must agree to look at the world anew, as if encountering it for the first time through the eyes of a child, and in the manner of a philosopher. For both philosophers and children, the unknown letter writer tells her, have an important faculty in common. They are both endlessly curious and inquiring about the world.
Sophie agrees, and soon she is being guided through the the ideas of past thinkers, beginning with the early naturalists, then onto Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and forward through the centuries into our own time. In all, there is simply too much to say about Sophie's World, in which Gaarder cleverly weaves the history of philosophy into an enthralling tale with mysteries all its own. One of the primary enigmas of this book is why Sophie has been chosen in the first place to go on this "magical mystery tour."
But I don't want to spoil the surprises of this story, which open up like a box to reveal yet another box tucked inside. A novel about philosophy may sound too formidable for a promising narrative, but a thoughtful, older reader will find it absorbing -- especially on those long summer days when one actually has time to curl up with a book of some substance. Having traversed Sophie's World, with its extensive cast of fascinating characters, I find myself being reminded, on nearly every page of this engrossing novel, of the enduring need to make inquiries of my own.
Copyright 2006© Marissa Noel
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Friday, 30-Jun-2006 14:28:49 EDT