Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas



The boy in the Striped Pyjamas
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

John Boyne
"Nine-year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas.

Bruno's friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process."
  
 The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas tells the tale of Bruno, a young boy growing up in luxury in Berlin. His life is uprooted as his family moves to the country due to his father gaining an important position at a mysterious place named “Out-With” where he befriends a young boy, Shmuel, who lives at the other side of the fence surrounding his new home.

   I enjoyed this book a lot, in fact upon starting it I didn’t put it down until about three quarters of the way through, finishing it the next day. It’s the kind of book that’s easy to get swept up in, time passing you by without you realising.
   Bruno is a great character. I don’t think I’d be spoiling anything about the book when I say that it’s a tale of the holocaust and “Out-With” is Bruno’s mispronunciation of Auschwitz. This and other misheard phrases help mask Bruno from the horrors of what is going on around him and allows us to view the events of the holocaust from a new and unusual perspective, that of a person who simply doesn’t know it is happening.

   Bruno’s blissful ignorance is at once endearing and infuriating, he is often more concerned with the fact that he can’t play with Shmuel because of the fence than what the boy’s life is like. I physically cringed during moments where Bruno selfishly ate eats the slices of cake that he smuggles from the house to give to Shmuel because he gets peckish on the way to the fence.
   The whole thing puts the reader in an odd position, we of course feel great sympathy for Shmuel and wish he could be rescued and we also wish Bruno could learn of the terrible atrocities occurring over the fence, while simultaneously hoping his innocence remains intact.

   Despite the dark reality of the novel, the story manages to have moments of light heartedness. This is again down to the story being told through a child’s perspective. Certain scenes (like when Hitler himself comes to dinner) have welcome breaks from the tension due to Bruno’s odd way of looking at the world. These lighter moments are incredibly welcome and stop the book becoming to bogged down with misery. They also further enhance the dramatic element of the book as we as the reader are constantly aware of the truth lurking beneath the humour.

   I did feel a little let down that Bruno’s ignorance continued through to the end, as much as I didn’t want him to learn the truth, I simply couldn’t believe that he could have lived in that environment for such a length of time without gaining some kind of knowledge about the truth behind the camp.

Despite this I enjoyed this novel immensely. It’s an interesting and heartbreaking take on a familiar story that I devoured hungrily. A simple read but one with several tough moments, I’d highly recommend it. 

John Boyne

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