Monday, January 29, 2007

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Bruno is 9 years old and loves his life in wartime Berlin: his home has a long bannister that he can slide down, he has 3 best friends for life, and he can see all the way across Berlin from the attic window.

One day he comes home to find the household in a frenzy because they are moving away. Bruno is upset because he doesn't want to leave Berlin and his friends and the bannister. His mother blames it on the fact that they had "the Fury" (a.k.a. the Fuhrer, Hitler) over for dinner recently and Bruno's father got a promotion because of that. Bruno is impressed by the fact that his father has a sharp Nazi uniform and polished boots, but still doesn't think it's fair that they have to move.

Their new home is in the middle of nowhere - except for a tall wire fence that Bruno can see from his bedroom window. Behind that fence are hundreds, maybe thousands of people who all wear striped pajamas. Bruno can't figure out why he's not allowed to go visit these people and play with the children in this place called "Out-With" (a.k.a. Auschwitz), but he does know that what he sees puts a chill in his bones for reasons he cannot understand.

When Bruno goes exploring one day he finds a boy, Schmuel, sitting on the other side of the fence. They soon learn that they share the same birthday and become friends, although Bruno keeps it a secret from his family, especially his father the Commandant.

I have read many novels set during the Holocaust and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is very unique among them. Not only is Bruno entirely unaware of what is happening around him (what happens at Auschwitz, the fact that his father is in charge of what happens at Auschwitz, etc.), but his friendship with Schmuel is striking in that the boys come from opposite ends of the wartime spectrum: Bruno is the son of a prominent Nazi and Schmuel is a Jew in a concentration camp. John Boyne paints a delicate and fascinating portrait of how far-reaching the effects of one friendship can be.

4.5 stars out of 5.

Read a review.

An interview with John Boyne.

Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum website.

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