Monday, December 14, 2015

Sophrosyne, a novel, by Marianne Apostolides

Sophrosyne, by Marianne Apostolides, is both a complicated philosophical novel and deep investigation of the simple impulses which motivate people to live and love one another.  

The novel revolves around the Greek philosophical concept of sophrosyne, a word that is difficult to translate, but comes close to meaning self-restraint.  Alex, a young boy who lives with his single mother Sophia, or Sophrosyne, as she is known when she belly dances, is inculcated with Greek philosophy at an early age from his sensual, mysterious mother.  Alex is drawn into her world of mind-body harmony without fully finding that balance himself.

When Alex leaves home for Princeton, he studies philosophy, but quickly finds himself mired in problems of definition and method; these, in turn, are deeply entwined with his struggles to attain a balance between mind and body, and satisfying his sexual needs. His horizons only expand when he becomes emotionally and sexually involved with a fellow classmate name Meiko, a Japanese-American woman, moving him closer to the ideal of sophrosyne.

Apostolides has written a highly intelligent novel, largely guided the theories of posthumanism and Japanese religious philosophy. Her strident prose conveys both a sense of the promise of rational investigation, while projecting a hazy, imprecise mysticism. Noriko Maeda’s exception brush paintings compliment this duality, creating a work that is as harmonious as it is challenging. 

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