This novel has already been a best seller in Scandinavia and Germany, and though it is markedly different from the prototypical American best seller, it should also do well here. The framework of the story is the receipt by a 14-year-old girl of mysterious letters that present her with a history of Western philosophy, from the pre-Socratics through Jean-Paul Sartre. After reading them, Sophie is prompted to ask questions and to think analytically. She also tries to discover their source and other manifestations, such as the puzzling postcards a Norwegian UN soldier in Lebanon sends to his nearly 15-year-old daughter. Adults and mature teens will appreciate the mystery as well as the philosophy lessons found in this first novel by a Norwegian high school philosophy teacher. Recommended for most collections.-Ann Irvine, Montgomery Cty. P.L., Md.
This long, dense novel, a bestseller in the author's native Norway, offers a summary history of philosophy embedded in a philosophical mystery disguised as a children's book-but only sophisticated young adults would be remotely interested. Sophie Amundsen is about to turn 15 when she receives a letter from one Alberto Knox, a philosopher who undertakes to educate her in his craft. Sections in which we read the text of Knox's lessons to Sophie about the pre-Socratics, Plato and St. Augustine alternate with those in which we find out about Sophie's life with her well-meaning mother. Soon, though, Sophie begins receiving other, stranger missives addressed to one Hilde Moller Knag from her absent father, Albert. As Alberto Knox's lessons approach this century, he and Sophie come to suspect that they are merely characters in a novel written by Albert for his daughter. Teacher and pupil hatch a plot to understand and possibly escape from their situation; and from there, matters get only weirder. Norwegian philosophy professor Gaarder's notion of making a history of philosophy accessible is a good one. Unfortunately, it's occasionally undermined by the dry language he uses to describe the works of various thinkers and by an idiosyncratic bias that gives one paragraph to Nietzsche but dozens to Sartre, breezing right by Wittgenstein and the most influential philosophy of this century, logical positivism. Many readers, regardless of their age, may be tempted to skip over the lessons, which aren't well integrated with the more interesting and unusual metafictional story line. Author tour. (Sept.)
YA‘From the opening Goethe quotation to the closing discussion of the big bang theory, this is an extraordinary, exciting, provocative book that has been a bestseller in Europe. Gaarder presents a didactic history of philosophical thought as part of a fictional mystery story that both pulls readers along and breaks up the ``heavy'' explanations into manageable parts. Yet the plot is itself a philosophical conundrum, not resolved until the aftermath of a hilarious, disturbing garden party in celebration of both Midsummer's Eve and the 15th birthday of the protagonist, a suburban Norwegian teenager. And even then, the mystery, like the human mystery, is not really resolved, and leaves readers wanting to know more. Gaarder pulls off the difficult feat of blending philosophy and entertainment in a way that will capture YAs' interest and make them eager to explore further.‘Judy McAloon, Potomac Library, Prince William County, VA