A Novel about the History of Philosophy
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.From School Library Journal
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 From Library Journal
This novel has already been a best seller in
Scandinavia andGermany, 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 inLebanon 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.From Kirkus Reviews
What if we were all just characters from a book written by Major Albert Knag as a philosophical present for his daughter Hilde's 15th birthday? This is the question that Sophie Amundsen must ask as she tackles the history of philosophy in what begins as a personalized correspondence course for which she never signed up. Coming home from school one day, Sophie finds questions in her mailbox, followed by typewritten pages about philosophy. She also gets strange birthday cards apparently intended for a Hilde Mller Knag in Lillesand, whom she has never met. Through these unusual circumstances, Sophie embarks on the study of philosophy with Alberto Knox--a middle-aged mystery man in a beret--only to discover that she is nothing more than the fictional heroine of a novel (called Sophie's World) about the history of philosophy. Hilde, on the other hand, whom we meet halfway through the book, appears to be a real girl whose father has written a novel entitled Sophie's World. She in turn learns about philosophy by reading about Sophie's study of philosophy, never suspecting that she is merely a character in a book--Sophie's World--written by a philosophy teacher named Jostein Gaarder to teach teenagers the beauty of philosophical discourse. In this long, self- referential novel (to use the word loosely), Gaarder presents philosophy in a clear, cogent way, using Sophie's and Hilde's experiences to illustrate his points. The reader who is expecting something other than a creative textbook, however, will be disappointed. Maybe Gaarder can fool Norwegian youths into learning philosophy, but savvy American kids won't be so easily hoodwinked. Index. (Philosophy/Fiction. All ages) -- Copyright ©1994, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to theHardcover
edition. About the Author
Jostein Gaarder, born in 1952 in
Norway, taught philosophy for many years before becoming a novelist. He lives with his family inOslo.2-Through a Glass, DarklyJostein Gaarder
Card catalog description
As Cecilia lies ill in bed, and her family prepares for Christmas, knowing she will not recover, an angel steps through her window to chat about life, death, and the universe.From the Publisher
The questioning of universal ideas that so many readers loved in Sophie's World continues in this beautiful, moving and wonderfully original novel.Book Description
As Cecilia lies ill in bed and her family prepare for Christmas, knowing she will not recover, an angel steps through her window. But Ariel is no ordinary angel - at least, he does not conform to conventional ideas of what an angel looks like and says. He likes nothing better than to sit around and chat about life, death and the universe. Through a Glass, Darkly is a springboard for a spirited and thoroughly engaging series of conversations between Cecilia and her angel.
As the weeks pass and winter turns to spring, subtle changes take place in the relationship between Cecilia and her family, as she swings from feelings of anger and denial, hope and despair, to a calm acceptance of her lot. She is preparing to leave...3-The Solitaire MysteryJostein Gaarder,Hilde Kramer (Illustrator),Sarah Jane Hails (Translator)
Jostein Gaarder had an unlikely international success withSophie's World
, a novelized exploration of western philosophy through the eyes of a young girl. This is an earlier work, translated from the Norwegian bySarah Jane Hails
. This fable-like story dabbles in philosophy too, though more lightly. It tells of a Norwegian boy traveling across Europe with his calm and reflective father in search of his long lost mother. The boy finds a tiny manuscript that reveals the secret of a magic deck of cards that can tell the future. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.From Publishers Weekly
Admirers of Gaarder's first translated work, the bestselling Sophie's World, will be familiar with this Norwegian ex-philosophy teacher's talent for transforming what is essentially a vigorous round of mental aerobics into unpredictable, absorbing fun. This novel, which was published in
Norway before Sophie's World, is another offbeat delight, ontology masquerading as an ingeniously constructed fairy tale. It tells the story of the 12-year-old Hans Thomas, who is driving with his father fromNorway toGreece in a quest to retrieve his errant mother. The plot thickens when a midget at a gas station on the Swiss border slips Hans Thomas a miniature magnifying glass, and then the next evening, on a stop in Dorf, a kindly old baker presents him with a correspondingly tiny book and swears him to secrecy. As Hans Thomas sneaks looks at the book, between sightseeing and philosophizing with his father on their trip south, it gradually unfurls a strange story of a shipwrecked sailor and his rather unusual game of solitaire?a story that has puzzling links with Hans Thomas's own life. By the time the mystery is resolved, Hans Thomas and his family learn important lessons about themselves and their past, as Gaarder walks the reader through a complex inquiry into the nature of being and destiny. Less light-footed than Sophie's World, this work relies on fantastical symbolism for its central allegory; some readers will find a plot that hinges on such elements as a magic vanishing island and sparkling Rainbow Soda too corny for their tastes. Others, however, will deem it enchanting, especially since all the whimsy is balanced by deft portraits of Hans Thomas and his gruff, good-hearted father.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.From School Library Journal
YA?There are both similarities and differences between this novel and Gaarder's previous book, Sophie's World (Farrar, 1994). Both are fantasies involving an interconnected story-within-a-story, an absent parent, and lessons in philosophy. Here, however, the emphasis is on the stories and not the lessons, and the characters really come alive. Hans Thomas, 12, and his father journey from
Norway toGreece, seeking Hans Thomas's mother, who abandoned them when the boy was 4. During their journey, Hans Thomas is given a tiny book and a magnifying glass so he can read about the fantastic adventures of Baker Hans, who was marooned on a island where playing cards came to life, rainbow soda altered taste and consciousness, and beautiful goldfish figured importantly. YAs will find the fairy tale in the tiny book pure entertainment; the larger story explores issues such as dependence on a single parent with a drinking problem, a boy's feelings about a mother he can barely remember, and the child's struggle to understand a troubled family history.?Molly Connally, Kings Park Library, Fairfax County, VA
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.From Kirkus Reviews
A playful, ingenious, frequently moving but occasionally perplexing celebration of our persistent search for answers to the ultimate questions--Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going?--disguised as a fairy tale/adventure. This Norwegian writer's first novel, Sophie's World (1994), used the guise of a novel-within-a-novel to present a droll history of philosophy, apparently intended for adolescents. It's unclear this time out who Gaarder imagines his audience to be. While the bare outlines of the story (a young boy and his despairing father go in search of the boy's mother, who has abandoned them; the boy is given a book, possibly magical, by a kindly old man; the book unlocks a series of remarkable revelations about the boy's life) might seem to be aimed at children or young adults, some of the imagery is dauntingly arcane. The book the boy is given is the history of two men, marooned 50 years apart on a magical island. The first man, his imaginative powers mysteriously enhanced, brings a deck of playing cards to life. The second man (the grandson of the first) sets in motion a series of events that lead to the island's destruction; he and the Joker escape. The Joker, who ``sees too deeply and too much,'' is the only one of the cards to wonder about his origins and purpose in life. Hans Thomas, the little boy, turns out to be the descendant to these castaways. The Joker, ever-youthful, takes an interest in the boy, helping Hans and his father to reunite with Hans' mother. There are passages here (on the wonderful island, the lives of the figures who have emerged from the deck of cards, the debates on life's purpose) that are ingenious and startling, reminiscent of the philosophical fantasies of the Victorian writer George MacDonald. But too often Gaarder's musings seem repetitious, the imagery hazy, the conclusions unsurprising. Fascinating and frustrating in equal measure. -- Copyright ©1996, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.4-The Christmas MysterybyJostein Gaarder,Rosemary Wells (Illustrator),Elizabeth Rokkan (Translator),Elizabeth Rakkan (Translator) Even grownups enjoy a bedtime story every now and then, especially one that combines, as does this one, the sophistication of a novel with the whimsy of a fairy tale. Gaarder, the Norwegian former professor of philosophy who brought us The Solitaire Mystery (1996) and the bestselling Sophie's World (1995), is up to his usual tricks here, serving up a metaphysical brainteaser that unfolds into a warm?but not preachy?meditation on God and the Christian doctrines. Set in an unnamed town in present-day
Norway, it tells the story of Joachim, a young boy who finds a faded, handmade Advent calendar in a bookstore on the eve of December first, and begs his father to let him take it home. The next morning, when he opens the calendar's first door, Joachim discovers not just the expected picture but also a tightly folded piece of paper, the first installment of the fantastic tale of a little girl's journey through time and space to be present at the Nativity. Soon the girl's story is making unexpected intrusions into Joachim's own life, and he races to solve the mystery of the calendar before Christmas Eve. First published inNorway in 1992, this work is less structurally sophisticated than Gaarder's later ones, and some will be dismayed by a repeated pro-Palestine, anti-Israel theme that undercuts the novel's larger message of universal tolerance and harmony. But in the end it is Gaarder's frank, friendly voice and the adorable character he has created in the inquisitive, enthusiastic Joachim that stay in the reader's mind.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.From Library Journal
What's Norwegian novelist Gaarder's latest plot device? In Sophie's World (LJ
9/1/94), it was philosophy taught via correspondence and in the forthcoming The Solitaire Mystery (reviewed in this issue), a pack of cards. Now, a magical advent calendar takes a little girl on an incredible journey.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.FromBooklist
Gaarder offers readers a Christmas mystery hiding behind the doors of an advent calendar. After finding the homemade calendar in a shabby bookstore, young Joachim learns that tucked in each door of the calendar is a chapter in the story of a little girl named Elisabet, who travels back in time to attend the birth of the baby Jesus. After Joachim shares the story in the calendar with his parents, things take an even stranger turn: Joachim's father remembers that a little girl named Elisabet disappeared from their Norwegian town. As the story progresses each day through the opening of the advent doors, Joachim and his family understand more of the true nature of Christmas as well as learning how Elisabet fits into tale and reality. The ending is not altogether satisfying, but it reaffirms the life-nourishing message. Part Little Prince, part Celestine Prophecy, overlaid with a religious patina, this fable should find a family audience, though youngsters will be bored with the many Scandinavian references. The art of noted children's illustrator Rosemary Wells decorates the book. Ilene CooperIngram
The author of the critically acclaimed Sophie's World presents a Christmas adventure about a boy who discovers a magical Advent calendar in the corner of a dusty bookstore that takes him on an amazing holiday journey.