Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
ISBN: 0385610319, David Fickling Books, 2006
Genre: Young Adult, Historical Fiction
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'd hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else's business.
Bruno is the son of a high-ranking SS officer in Nazi Germany. He and his older sister, Gretel, are growing up in luxury in Berlin when Hitler promotes their father and they find themselves moving to "Out-With" in Poland. Neither of the children have any idea what sort of place Out-With (Auschwitz) is, and they wonder what in the world all the people dressed in striped pajamas are doing on the other side of that tall fence. One day Bruno goes exploring and meets Shmuel, a young boy wearing striped pajamas who lives on the other side of the fence. They become friends.
I had heard many good things about this book, and I looked forward to reading it. If it's read at face value and as if it's a fable, it can be a very powerful book indeed. However, I had problems with it. 99% of the time I have no trouble with my "willing suspension of disbelief." I can turn off my judgement and let the writer tell me a story, and I'll believe it... as long as nothing throws me out of the narrative. I kept getting tossed out of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and I still have a few scrapes and bruises from the experience.
The character who kept kicking me in the shins was Bruno. I found it impossible to believe that the nine-year-old son of a high-ranking Nazi would be so totally naive about Jews, Hitler, and almost everything else going on in the world around him. Putting that aside, Bruno was a spoiled, petty little brat who-- on rare occasions-- showed a glimmer of humanity, but when push came to shove, he did and said anything in his power to save his own neck. His air of entitlement made him impossible for me to like. (In fact the only character in the book that truly came to life for me was Pavel, the prisoner forced to peel potatoes and wait on the family at table.)
The ending of the book is indeed powerful. Since I normally try my best not to give plot details away, I won't say anything about it here. I'll only mention my own reaction:
You reap what you sow.
Although I did have problems with The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I am glad that I read the book. I have a feeling that, in this particular case, Boyne's novel would've worked better if I had been a tween or a teenager with less baggage and fewer firmly held beliefs.
My Book Rating Scale:
A+...Don't delay, get your hands on a copy of this book!
A...I loved it!
B...I really liked it.
C...I liked it, with a few reservations.
D...I finished it, but it's not my cup of tea.
- Phoenix, Arizona, United States
- Hi! I'm addicted to books (especially crime fiction), laughter and traveling off the beaten path. In my free time, when my eyes aren't glued to the printed page, one of them is usually pressed against the viewfinder of my camera. Let's see... books, laughter, travel, photography. Anything else? Oh yeah-- my dream house wouldn't have a kitchen!
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