Sophie's World

From Academic Kids

Sophie's World (Sofies verden in Norway) is a novel by Jostein Gaarder, published in 1995. It was originally written in Norwegian, but has since been translated into English.

Mostly consisting of dialogues between the titular Sophie and a mysterious man named Alberto Knox, interwoven with an increasingly bizarre and mysterious plot, it acts as both a novel and a basic guide to philosophy. In 1999 it was adapted into a Norwegian movie; however, it was not widely released worldwide.


Sophie Amundsen (Sofie Amundsen in the Norwegian version) is a fifteen-year-old girl living in Norway in 1990. She lives alone with her many pets 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 leads a normal life, which is rather abruptly rattled shortly after 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 Moller Knag, c/o Sophie Amudsen'. Shortly afterwards, she also receives a packet of papers of a 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 (which is perhaps why her father was not included in the story, as he probably would questioned his daughter receiving anonymous messages—something her mother mostly doesn't), but gradually reveals more and more about himself. The papers and the packet both turn out to be from him, although the post card, which is addressed from someone called Albert Knag, who is in a United Nations unit stationed in Lebanon, is not.

Alberto proceeds to teach her the history of philosophy. She gets a review from the Pre-Socratic Greeks through Jean-Paul Sartre, which is phrased in such a fashion that teenagers can understand it. This phrasing later proves to be an integral part of the plot itself, as Sophia and Alberto try and outwit the mysterious Albert Knag, who appears to have the powers of God—something Alberto bitterly resents.

The philosophy itself is creatively and simply presented. 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 caf. 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?"), which she is given time to puzzle over (it is arguably not possible to actually solve a philosophical question) before the next packet arrives. Each packet of papers has a topic, which will often be related to the preluding notes.

Alberto takes Sophie from Hellenism (perhaps the most famous philosophical period, the age of the natural philosophers), 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 the invasive man who acts as God 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 beat the sham-god.

The book is laced with events which are technically impossible (such as Sophie seeing herself 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.

External links

de:Sofies Welt no:Sofies verden zh:蘇菲的世界


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