Sophie's World  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
unknown man, philosophy, basic guide

Sophie's World (Sofies verden in the original Norwegian) is a novel by Jostein Gaarder, published in 1991. It was originally written in Norwegian, but has since been translated into English (1995) and many other languages.

Mostly consisting of dialogues between Sophie Amundsen and a mysterious man named Alberto Knox, interwoven with an increasingly bizarre and mysterious plot, Sophie's World acts as both a novel and a basic guide to philosophy.

Plot summary

Sophie Amundsen (Sofie Amundsen in the Norwegian version) is a fourteen year old girl living in Norway in 1990. She lives with her cat Sherekan, her goldfish, a tortoise, two budgerigars and her mother. Her father is a captain of an oil tanker, and is away for most of the year. He does not appear in the book.

Sophie's life is rattled as the book begins, when she receives two anonymous messages in her mailbox (Who are you? Where does the world come from?), as well as a post card addressed to 'Hilde Møller Knag, c/o Sophie Amundsen'. Shortly afterwards she receives a packet of papers, part of a correspondence course in philosophy.

With these mysterious communications, Sophie becomes the student of a fifty-year-old philosopher, Alberto Knox. He starts out as totally anonymous, but as the story unfolds he reveals more and more about himself. The papers and the packet both turn out to be from him, although the post card is not; it is addressed from someone called Albert Knag, who is a major in a United Nations peacekeeping unit stationed in Lebanon.

Alberto teaches her about the history of philosophy. She gets a substantive and understandable review from the Pre-Socratic Greeks through Jean-Paul Sartre. Along with the philosophy lessons, Sophie and Alberto try to outwit the mysterious Albert Knag, who appears to have God-like powers, which Alberto finds quite troubling.

Sophie learns about medieval philosophy while being lectured by Alberto, dressed as a monk, in an ancient church, and she learns about Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir in a French café. Various philosophical questions and methods of reasoning are put before Sophie, as she attempts to work them out on her own. Many of Knox's philosophic packets to her are preluded by more short questions, such as "Why is Lego the most ingenious toy in the world?".

Alberto takes Sophie from Hellenism to the rise of Christianity and its interaction with Greek thought and on into the Middle Ages. Over the course of the book, he covers the Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment and Romantic periods, and the philosophies that stemmed from them.

Mixed in with the philosophy lessons is a plot rather more akin to normal teenage novels, in which Sophie interacts with her mother and her friends. This is not the focus of the story, however; it simply serves to move the plot along. As Albert Knag continues to meddle with Sophie's life, Alberto helps her fight back by teaching her everything he knows about philosophy. This, he explains, is the only way to understand her world.

This is laced with events which appear scientifically impossible, such as Sophie seeing her reflection in a mirror wink with both eyes, or actually seeing Socrates and Plato. Being a book based on philosophy, however, it promises—and delivers—an explanation for everything in the end, when Sophie and Alberto Knox escape from Albert Knag.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Sophie's World" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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