Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne

A young boy is prised away from his friends, his daily habits/routine, the streets he has grown up on, and taken to a place where his house is the only one on one side of a fence, where there aren’t any other children to play with, and where he cannot find any roots.

Bruno knows they’ve moved there because of his father’s work, ordered to be Commander at a concenctration camp “Out-with” (how Bruno says the word) by “The Fury” (again, the way Bruno says Fuhrer) and that the choice has been made for them by his father. But he still cannot accept it. Once, on a walk when bored, he comes across another boy, who to Bruno’s surprise, is born on the same day as him. But he’s on the other side of the fence, one of the people in striped pyjamas Bruno noticed earlier from his window.

There are no borders to friendship in childhood. All are the same, brought together by luck or destiny or something the children find in common. This story also sees such a friendship – between Bruno and Shmuel. They’ve both reached “Out-with” in different yet similar circumstances, brought there against their will, taken away from the place they grew up in. Though the reader can see the difference, the young Bruno’s view is just that simple. The boys bond over talks, and Bruno doesn’t realize that Shmuel is part of a concentration camp for Jews. It’s the same childishness that makes Gretel, his sister, disbelieve his story about Shmuel and call Shmuel as imaginary. There’s also hope in Bruno’s character, be it an intent to get back to Berlin, his home, or to feel Shmuel can be his friend. The showing of disdain from Officers to those at the concentration camp was sad, and quite disheartening to imagine that scene had happened to someone in reality too, and perhaps even worse to others, but that is history as we know it. It was sad to read Pavel’s fate, even though it isn’t mentioned explicitly. And yes, the ending is definitely very saddening to read.

That being said, with such a storyline, I thought I’d feel that sadness tinged throughout, but it wasn’t so. The first half of the book goes mainly with Bruno trying to cope with the move, and such. The story, focusing on Bruno as primary character doesn’t quite bring to life, the state at the concentration camp. Perhaps that’s why it didn’t feel very heartbreaking to me. OK. Naivety isn’t lost in childhood, but I don’t think any child can be as naive as Bruno is portrayed to be at times. There’s an obstinate edge to his character that feels real, but other than that, it’s not believable to me that Bruno doesn’t know what a Jew, or who Hitler is, or what “Heil Hitler” is. Even if that’s believable, after all he might be kept unawares of it, or with his obstinate edge refuse to believe it, it’s very unbelievable that Gretel, who is almost thirteen, isn’t aware. Even more so because they’re children of a military family. I’ve read very few books of the Holocaust, but I really don’t imagine it’s that easy for the son of an Officer and a boy at the concentration camp to meet, or spend a lot of time talking, let alone form such a close friendship. I can’t quite imagine loose fences or unguarded times. I can’t imagine a mother letting her kids be in such an environment for as long as they did, and no, I can’t imagine how the ending of that book came to be. Just by shaving hair and putting on another set of clothes, does a boy become very similar to all others at the camp?

I like this book for the friendship without fences that it portrayed (even if it was unbelivable, it is fictional after all), and the hope and simplicity in Bruno’s thoughts and actions. It might even partly show a glimpse of what was once reality but I don’t feel it can be called a Holocaust book. Not one I’d re-read.


A Score Of 4 Out Of 10
Book Details
Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author(s): John Boyne Genre: Fiction
ISBN/ASIN: 9780099572862 Publisher: Vintage

No payment was taken for this review. The views expressed here are mine, and they remain uninfluenced and unbiased.


(© Vinay Leo R. @ A Bookworm’s Musing
9th February 2018)

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