Amudsen had three goldfish, two parakeets, and a cat named
Sherekan, who usually rushed to the doorstep as soon as he
heard her coming. The Amudsens lived in a single-family house
that seemed to be "out at the world's end, since the
woods began right behind the yard." Sophie liked to play
on the swings and play cards and badminton. She was not very
pretty, with "flaxen" hair that refused to stay
put. On June 15, she would be 15 years old.
when she got home from school, Sophie brought in the mail
and found a letter addressed to "Sophie Amudsen, 3 Clover
Way." No stamp and no return address. Inside was a little
slip of paper with the brief message: "Who are you?"
did Sophie know that that brief message would turn her life
topsy-turvy. But her curiosity was aroused. Who are you? What
a question! I'm Sophie Amudsen, of course. But if I had been
somebody else, would I still have been the same Sophie under
another name? How do I know I am Sophie? When did I become
Sophie? Will I stop being Sophie someday, like grandma, whom
I miss so much? Who put this letter in my mailbox? Sophie
rushed to the porch, raised the green metal cover, and found
another message just like the first one: "Where did the
world come from?"
Sophie's World, the remarkable "novel" by Jostein
Gaarder, a Norwegian professor of philosophy and the history
of ideas. Sophie's World was published in Oslo in 1991. Before
then, Gaarder taught in Bergen and published some schoolbooks
on religious history, a collection of stories, and three novels
for young people. For a long while, Gaarder had one idea foremost
in mind: to write a history of philosophy for everyone. That
book is Sophie's World, a book in which the leading character
is philosophy. It is a real novel, a "thriller"
that, while running the gamut from Democritus to Jean-Paul
Sartre, explains without abstruse language all the high points
in Western thought.
sorts through the mailbox in hopes of finding a third message,
she finds a postcard with Norwegian stamps but bearing the
return address: "Norwegian United Nations Contingent,
Lebanon." It is addressed to "Hilde Moller Knag,
c/o Sophie Amudsen, 3 Clover Way." It is a birthday card
that says, "I really want to give you a gift that will
help you grow up. Forgive me for sending the card to Sophie.
It was easier that way. Love and kisses, Dad."
day, a big envelope comes addressed to Sophie marked "Philosophy
Course. Handle with Care." It contains three typewritten
pages pinned with a paper clip. Her correspondent continues
sending his yellow envelopes almost daily. Sophie can't wait
to get them. She has made up her mind to learn all the lessons
so that, like the philosophers, she can "embark on that
dangerous journey that leads to the outer reaches of language
and existence." She pesters her friends with her tales
of the death of Socrates and the questions that come on her
little notes. "Do you believe in fate? Is there a natural
modesty? What should a man do to have a happy life?"
can follow at leisure the adventures of Sophie on this side
and that side of the looking glass, find his way around the
byways of being, and go zigzagging around among Aristotle's
first causes, Hegel's absolute knowledge, Kant's categorical
imperative, and Kierkegaard's ethical stage. Here and there,
the reader will run across Aladdin, Ebenezer Scrooge, Little
Red Riding Hood, and even a pixie or two. And the trip must
be a pleasant one, to judge by the phenomenal success of this
book. It went through a first printing of 7,000 copies in
Norway and will soon reach 50,000. In translation, it has
conquered Germany (almost a million copies), England, the
U.S., Italy, and some 30 other countries.
not hard to understand the book's success. The end of this
century has seen many certainties crumble and a proliferation
of "would-be wisdoms" ranging from parapsychology
to the occult and quasi-religious cults. The feat achieved
by Sophie's World is that it brings back an image of philosophy
that had rather withered. This is edifying philosophy, a philosophy
that teaches and informs.
out! Sophie's World is full of twists and turns. One gets
lost in the mazes, loses sight of the landmarks, even fears
that the world is just an illusion--or the illusion a world.
real are the typewritten sheets Sophie reads and rereads.
Everything is clearly set out there, from the Platonic theory
of ideas to Marx, Darwin, Freud. As the theories unwind, as
the history of philosophy goes by and Sophie forms her own
ideas, her world takes on a different look. It has too many
mirrors, too many reflections, too many shadows. The philosopher
plants doubts--which are the beginning of philosophy. Is it
her mind that leads Sophie toward a big manor surrounded by
Sophie finds a strange book, Sophie's World, and her world
breaks into a thousand pieces. She realizes that she and the
professor are only characters in a novel written by a major
in the Norwegian UN contingent in Lebanon for his daughter,
Hilde, who in turn does not exist. But don't be alarmed. Sophie
and the professor find a way to escape from the book and go
off to live happily ever after, so to speak, in a country
where nothing ever ends and where they are welcomed with open
came from a Grimms' fairy tale, nigh on 20 years ago. And
where do they come from, these two?"
came from a philosophy book. I am a philosophy teacher, and
Sophie here is my student." --Robert Maggiori, "Liberation"
(leftist), Paris, March 2, 1995.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005