New York, Brooklyn, 1947. The novice writer Stingo, on whose behalf the narrative is based, set out to conquer literary America. However, while he has nothing to boast about. The work of a reviewer in a fairly large publishing house proves to be short, it is not possible to make useful literary acquaintances, and the money is running out.
Narration is multilayered. This is Stingo’s autobiography. And also the story of Sophie, young Polka Zofia Zavistovskaya, who passed through the hell of Auschwitz. And stretched out on many pages “cruel romance” – a description of the fateful love of Zofia and Nathan Landau, Stingo’s neighbors at a cheap boarding house in Brooklyn. This is a novel about fascism and, in part, a treatise on world evil.
Stingo absorbedly worked on his first novel from the life of his native South, in which the connoisseurs of creativity of Styron easily recognize his own novel-debut “Take in the darkness.” But in a gloomy gothic world of passions, which seeks to recreate Stingo, another material breaks in. The story of Zofia’s life, which the fragment after the fragment tells a pretty neighbor in moments of fear and desperation, caused by another quarrel with the unruly Nathan, makes Stingo think about what is fascism.
One of his most interesting observations is the conclusion about the peaceful coexistence of two antagonist life layers. So, he thinks, on the very day when the Eisenhonne liquidation
Poland, the thirties… Zofia is the daughter of Professor of Law at Krakow University, Beganski. In the same place, her husband Kazimir teaches mathematics. Somewhere in the distance, fascism is already raising its head, people are entering the camps, but the walls of the cozy professorial apartment protect Zofia from sad facts. She does not immediately trust Stingo, which she kept secret from Nathan. Her father was by no means an anti-fascist who saved Jews, risking his own life. A respectable lawyer, on the contrary, was an ardent anti-Semite and composed a pamphlet entitled “The Jewish Problem in Poland: Can Its National Socialism Solve it.” The legal scientist, in fact, proposed what the Nazis would later call “the final decision”. At the request of his father, Zofia had to reprint the manuscript for the publishing house. Her father’s views arouse her horror, but the shock quickly passes,
… 1939. Poland was occupied by the Nazis. Professor Begansky hopes to be useful to the Reich as an expert on national issues, but his fate is predetermined by absolute Aryans. As a representative of an inferior Slavic race, he does not need a great Germany. Together with his son-in-law, Zofia’s husband, he ends up in a concentration camp, where they both perish. Stingo listens to “Polish history,” and he regularly captures on paper the images of his native South. Nathan shows interest in his work, reads excerpts from the novel and praises Stingo, and not out of politeness, but because he really believes in the literary talent of a neighbor in the boarding house. At the same time, poor Stingo has to be responsible for all the excesses between black and white in this region of America, Nathan’s philippics sound unfair, but the irony of fate is that,
It turns out that the money sent to him by his father and allowing him to continue working on the novel is part of the amount earned by his great-grandfather in the distant past from the sale of a young slave, nicknamed the Artist. He was unjustly accused of hysterical girl in molestation, and then it turned out that she slandered him. Great-grandfather made a lot of efforts to find the young man and redeem him, but he seemed to have disappeared. The sad fate of the Artist, who most likely found an untimely death on the plantations, becomes the foundation on which the beginning artist tries to build his writing future, gravitating toward the depiction of the dark sides of reality. True, most of this money will be stolen from Stingo, and he will be visited by a double feeling of vexation and the accomplishment of historical justice.
It comes from Nathan and Zofia. He is not only unjustly jealous of her for a variety of characters in the novel, but in moments of fury she accuses her of anti-Semitism, how much she dared to survive, when Jews from Poland almost all perished in gas chambers. But even here, in the reproaches of Nathan, there is a grain of truth, although it is not for him to judge his beloved. Nevertheless, more and more of Zofia’s confessions create the image of a woman desperately trying to adapt to an abnormal existence, to conclude a pact with evil – and again and again failing.
Zofia faces a problem: to take part in the Resistance movement or to stand aside. Zofia decides not to risk: after all, she has children, the daughter of Eva and son Yang, and she convinces herself that she is primarily responsible for their lives.
But by the will of circumstances she still falls into a concentration camp. As a result of another round-up of the underground, she is detained, and since she is banned with ham (all meat is the property of the Reich), she is sent to the place she so dreaded to get to – in Auschwitz.
At the price of a separate peace with the evil Zofia tries to save his loved ones and loses them one by one. Dies, without help, Zophia’s mother, and on arrival in Auschwitz, fate as a drunk SS proposes to her to decide which child to leave and who to lose in the gas chamber. If she refuses to make a choice, both will be sent to the stove, and after the painful hesitation she leaves Yan’s son. And in the camp Zofia makes desperate efforts to adapt. Having become a secretary-typist of the all-powerful commandant Hess, she will try to rescue Jan. Useful and saved her father’s tract. She will declare herself a convinced anti-Semite and champion of the ideas of National Socialism. She is ready to become Hess’s mistress, but all her efforts go to waste. He began to show interest in the main jailer transferred to Berlin, and her back to the common hut, and attempts to ease the fate of his son will be futile. She is no longer destined to see Ian.
Gradually, Stingo understands what keeps her in the company of Nathan. At one time, he did not let her die in Brooklyn, did everything – with the help of her brother doctor Aarry – to recover from the upheavals and malnutrition and gain strength to continue living. Gratitude forces her to demolish the mad jealousy of Nathan, attacks of rabies, during which he not only offends, but also beats her.
Soon Stingo learns the sad truth. Larry tells him that his brother is not a talented biologist working on a project that, according to Nathan, will bring him the Nobel Prize. Nathan Landau by nature brilliantly gifted, but a serious mental illness did not allow him to self-actualize. The family spared no effort and money for his treatment, but the efforts of psychiatrists did not bring the desired result. Nathan really works in a pharmaceutical company, but a modest librarian, and talk about science, about the upcoming opening – all this is for a divorce.
Nevertheless, in the next period of relative mental well-being, Nathan informs Stingo of his intention to marry Zofia, and that the three of them will go to the “family farm” of Stingo, where they will rest properly.
Of course, plans are still plans. A new fit of Nathan, and Zofia hastily leaves the house. However, Nathan calls her and Stingo on the phone and promises to shoot them both. As a sign of seriousness of his intentions, he shoots a pistol, while in space.
At the insistence of Stingo, Zofia leaves New York in his company. They go to the farm of Stingo. It is during this journey that the hero manages to part with his virginity, which did not at all adorn the gothic artist. Attempts to become a man Stingo has undertaken repeatedly, but in America at the end of the fortieth years the ideas of free love were not popular. In the end, the beginning American writer got what, in virtue of circumstances, the commandant of Auschwitz was denied. Sufferer and victim of total violence, Zofia at the same time acts as an embodiment of Erotica.
However, waking up after a delightful night, Stingo realizes that he is in number one. Zofia did not endure separation from Nathan and, having changed her mind, returned to New York. Stingo immediately goes after her, realizing that, most likely, he was already late to prevent the inevitable from happening. The last dilemma, which suggests the fate of Zofia – to live with Stingo or die with Nathan, she decides unequivocally. She too many times already chose life – at the cost of the death of others. Now she acts differently. Rejecting the possibility of a comfortable existence, Zofia remains faithful to the man who once saved her, now she has finally linked her fate with him. As characters of ancient tragedy, they take poison and die at the same time. Stingo is left to live – and write.