Sophie Zawistowski is haunted by the events of her past. As a prisoner of war at Auschwitz, she was forced to choose between her two children – one would live, the other would die. She sent her younger child, Eva, to the gas chamber to save her older son, Jan. It was an unimaginable decision that she has been tortured by ever since.
Styron's portrayal of Sophie is complex, a woman who tries desperately to move forward in life while struggling with the trauma from her past. Her relationship with Nathan Landau is troubled, and she is also sexually involved with a Polish man named Stingo. She reveals to him the choice she made at Auschwitz and how that decision has continued to shape her life.
Although Sophie's Choice has been labeled as an American classic or historical fiction, it is not a work that is easily classifiable. The book is an adult novel that deals with sex and violence and is unsuitable for young adults. It also deals with the Holocaust, which at the time was a hotly debated topic in the United States.
The novel was a commercial success, reaching number one on the bestseller list in 1979 and becoming an Academy Award-winning film in 1982, starring Meryl Streep and Kevin Kline. It is an important and compelling book that explores the complex nature of human relationships, forgiveness, and the choices we are forced to make in our lives.