Author: John Boyne
Country: Great Britain (2006)
Genre: Young Adult; Historical Fiction
Challenges: War Through the Ages; Young Adult, Library Challenge
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
(As I mentioned in last week's Sunday Salon) I first saw The Boy in the Striped Pajamas as a movie trailer. I didn't realize that it was a book until I began googling to find out how long it had been at the theatre and when it would be coming to DVD. It was through this search that I found out it was a book, so I immediately put it on my list and waited impatiently for it to arrive.
Now what's interesting is there is no summary to be found on the inside of the book jacket.
Instead, Boyne explains that "[they] thought [the summary] would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about."I admit, I was a little disappointed that I already knew with such an introduction.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a tale about the Holocaust, told differently. The point of view is a 9 year old German boy named Bruno who has been been transplanted with his family from Berlin to Poland. Bruno knows that his dad is a very important man, he wear a uniform and all the soldiers that come visit his dad always seem in awe. Still, he is quite mad at his father for moving them to this wretched place out in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing around, and even odder, on the horizon, there's a whole bunch of people in striped pajamas that mill around these grey buildings. Gretal, Bruno's know-it-all 12 year old sister, finally concludes that they are Jews. Around this time Bruno does what any 9 y.o. would, he begins to explore. Along the fence he goes for hours. He's about to give up until:
"Bruno slowed down when he saw the dot that became a speck that became a blob that became a figure that became a boy."We soon find out that the boy is Shmuel and he quickly becomes Bruno's friend. The rest is a journey of friendship through the ugliness of war, cruelty, and death.
I thought this book was incredible. From the moment that I began reading, I was pulled into Bruno's perspective on what was going on in Germany during World War II. I've read complaints from other reviewers expressing disbelief in Bruno's ignorance and naivety. It was questioned whether it was believable that a 9 year old would be as clueless to the war and even more oblivious of the concentration camp his home neighbors. I can understand those doubts especially when we think about how much our children are exposed to now from the media, their peers, music, etc. I don't believe that the people were as aware as we would expect, whether this unawareness is specific to the censorship going on or the inclination to not see what you should be seeing. My grandmother lived in Germany during World War II and I grew up listening to stories from my grandmother about what East Germany was like. She was a tween when Hitler came to reign and their impression of this man was so further than the reality of him. These personal stories that she shared of war-time Germany shadowed my reading of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Shmuel and Bruno became real to me.
I also thought the authenticity of voice was an incredible asset. Bruno refers to the Furor as "The Fury", his sister as the "Hopeless Case", and Auschwitz as "Out With". The father is very much the patriarch, his is the breadwinner, the foundation, and the ultimate decision-maker in the family. He is of a serious demeanor and it's easy to see Bruno both respects and fears his father.
Finally, the ending...oh wow! The ending was one o those endings where, a few pages before the end you know how it's going to end and you keep thinking to yourself "No! No! No!" as if shouting inside your head could stop the characters from playing out their role. I closed the book and was at a loss.
[side note: evidently Boyne said that he wrote the rough draft in two and a half days, barely sleeping.]