On this day: William Styron dies

November 1 2006: The author of Sophie’s Choice dies at the age of 81


When Sophie’s Choice was first published in 1979, it provoked controversy and debate. More than 30 years later, it has been both banned and a bestseller, become part of the canon of Holocaust literature and been made into an Oscar-winning film starring Meryl Streep.

The story of a Polish, non-Jewish woman who was sent to Auschwitz with her two young children, and her life after the Holocaust in Manhattan, it won the 1980 National Book Award.

Its author, William Styron, was not Jewish but from a family of Episcopalians in Virginia. Born in 1925, he joined the marines as the Second World War was ending, enrolling at Duke University to study English after.

He wrote several novels, including The Confessions of Nat Turner about a slave uprising in the American South in the1830s, for which he won the 1968 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

What the JC said: Besides the fundamental polarities of life and death, religion and atheism, that surround the agonising “choice” at its centre, the novel is structured upon a whole network of such dualities: sanity and madness, love and hate, Jew and Gentile, Europe and America, North and South, Black and White, and so on…a brilliant novel whose varied elements are blended with wit and grace, but an important one which resists the reduction if its theme into what can become the genre of genocide.

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    Last updated: 9:46am, November 1 2010