The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

 
When friendship sprouts up in the most unlikely of places.

Synopsis of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne: Berlin 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

My thoughts

I picked up The Boy in the Striped Pajamas upon the recommendation of so many readers out there. I loved The Book Thief's unique perspective of storytelling but little did I know that this slim book would pack such a powerful story.

The book in one sentence: Nine-year-old Bruno, son of Nazi commandant, forges an unlikely friendship with a boy in striped pyjamas.

***

Typically, the horrors of the Holocaust are recounted from the point of view of the victim. This story does the exact opposite - it tells it from the viewpoint of the oppressor, or at least a representative from oppressor's group ... as the storyteller is the child of a Nazi commandant. Being such, it is told with such heartbreaking innocence and naivete that led me to wonder: Did Bruno not have an inkling of anything going on?

Bruno, just nine years old, moves with his family to a new home because of his father's promotion. The place is so remote, he has no one to play with but his sister Gretel (who isn't much of a playmate anyway). Peeking through his bedroom window though, he realizes that there are other children in nearby "farm." He finds it strange though that there are no women and all the people on that side of the fence are dressed in blue pyjamas.

He loses interest in the things nearby and being the inquisitive boy he is, he plays explorer. He finally finds his way to the fence of the "farm"and he meets Shmuel, a boy exactly his age. Over time he develops a friendship with Shmuel, finding so much in common between them despite the fence dividing them. Through repeated visits and gifts of food, Bruno learns about Shmuel's life on the other side of the fence.

Boyne euphemizes everything through Bruno's childlike descriptions: of his new home Out-With, of his mother's taking credit for the good deed of their waiter Pavel, of the lessons he and Gretel learn through their private tutor, of what it means to be wearing striped pyjamas. All these have horrific implications which only an adult mind can understand. Only through the voice of a child does Boyne drive home the point that there are more victims than we realize, and the saddest of them is our children's innocence.

The book ends in tragedy. But the friendship of Bruno and Shmuel teaches us friendships can bloom and last in even the most unlikely places.

I also watched the movie and it is every bit as good as the book (the acting is superb!). I wouldn't recommend a child younger than 12 watching it (or reading the book) as although the lead characters are young boys, and there is nothing too graphic or disturbing, the story is difficult to understand without some background of Nazi Germany.

First line: One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family's maid - who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet - standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he had hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business.

Last line: Not in this day and age.

Verdict: A must-read, powerful, disturbing. Prepare yourself for the tears, or at least a lump in the throat. While there is some controversy surrounding the factuality of the novel, the message is clear: stories like these need to be told to remind us that
Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one.

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6 comments :

  1. So so happy that you loved this book. I read this a couple of years ago, and just LOVED it. I especially like that last quote you pulled out, the one about fences. It really does get to you, doesn't it?

    Oh, and I never knew it was made into a movie! Will have to check it out and see where I can find it.

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  2. I liked this book too; I read it last year and was on a plane when I was reading the last few chapters. I had to stuff my fist in my mouth to keep from shrieking!

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  3. Michelle, if you have hi-speed internet, you can watch it online!

    Blooey, I KNOW! I KNOW!!!

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  4. I've heard great things about this book for a couple of years now but I still haven't found a copy here in the Philippines :( Fortunately I was able to catch the film on cable early this month and such a tragic, tragic film indeed.

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  5. Lightheaded, be on the lookout on Bookmooch. And come to think of it, I have never seen it at Booksale!

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  6. Oh lord, I loooved this book. I made my mom read it and she got mad at me because she doesn't like reading things that would keep her awake for a week :-)

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