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THE BOY IN STRIPPED PAJAMAS by John Boyne

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9/16/11









Book Review

The Boy in Striped Pajamas


They say that ignorance is bliss. That is a truth, for the lack of knowledge about what is true and ugly about the world certainly would make a happier, more idealistic person. However, ignorance can also bring about great tragedy. The Boy in Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is a coming of age story, during the Holocaust, about the young son of a Nazi commandant, Bruno. It is about his time at a place that he calls ‘Out With’. While at ‘Out With', Bruno meets a peculiar boy at the other side of the fence who wears striped pajamas. Upon meeting this boy, he ceases to miss Berlin and grows fond of his new home, because now he has a friend he can talk to. Throughout the book, Bruno remains oblivious to his surroundings as all nine year olds should be. However, it is clear that his new home is not all he thinks it is, and that his father is not the brilliant, reasonable man he believes him to be. It is an fascinating story about the innocence of a young boy in a cruel world, and what might result from such blissful ignorance.


This book is beautiful in how it portrays the innocents during something so terrible as the Holocaust. The dialogue really stands out, not because it is fun to say or read, but because it feels real. It feels like it has life. Hearing Bruno whine makes me hear a child whine. His father speaks like a commanding Nazi officer. None of it feels like something a poor play production might write. Also, the way it is written conveys the mind of a nine year old wonderfully. It calls the infamous concentration camp, Auschwitz, and ‘Out With’, since Bruno hasn’t even heard of anything like a Concentration Camp or what occurs in it. Also, the simple description, such as describing dropped jaws as ‘big O’ shows how immature Bruno's mind really is.



Thankfully, the book did not come to a halt every time a new character entered the scene because the author did not waste our time with unnecessary description. For example, Bruno only described Shmuel because he never saw anyone as bizarre looking as him. However, there was not one instance where the story described the exact wrinkles on his father’s face, or the moles Shmuel might have. Not to mention it showed how children like Bruno barely give two thoughts about appearance.


Speaking of Bruno, he truly develops in this story along with the writing. At the beginning, he was a whiny brat, always complaining about leaving home while oblivious to how others feel or why they may not complain about the situation. One notable example is when he talks to the maid, Maria, and whines more abut his life before she says how she used to starve thanks to having so little money. Later on, Bruno, who faced the possibility of moving back to Berlin, kept his mouth shut about it and decided to just go with it, even though it was clear he grown attached to his home and his Jewish friend, Shmuel. Also, at one point in the book, when he was genuinely terrified, he indirectly accused Shmuel of stealing. Later on, after Shmuel forgave him, he decided to repent by looking for Shmuel’s father. It showed how much more courageous he had gotten, since he also just faced the terrible truth of the world at the other side of the fence. He saw how miserable everyone was, but, despite having an undeniable urge to run, he stuck with Shmuel.


However, everything has its faults, and this book is no exception. For one, the book starts off rather slow, and the writing is a little chunky and underdeveloped. For example, it repeats descriptions like the jaw dropping into a ‘big O’ way too many times. Thankfully, the writing picks up it’s pace about halfway in, and it becomes impossible to put down. However, some of the more glaring problems are less easy to let off the hook. After all, the author clearly had little knowledge about the German language. Things like comparing ‘Fürer’ and ‘Fury’ might be passable, despite there being a clear ‘er’ sound at the end of ‘Fürer’. On the other hand, ‘Auschwitz’ and ‘Out With’ sound almost nothing alike. There is a ‘sh’ in ‘Auschwitz’ that is not present in ‘Out With’, after all. Yes, it is a bit of a nitpick, but it was really irritating. Speaking of which, how does Bruno not know who the ‘Fürer’ is at the age of nine? That is like not knowing who the president is! Besides, Nazi propaganda was everywhere. He should have known about his glorious leader of Germany and all that in kindergarten. Another factual error in this book is the puzzling action of Bruno being able to climb under the fence of ‘Out With’. After all, even if there was a hole he could fit through, the high voltage racing through the electric gate would have zapped him the moment either him of Shmuel laid a finger on it. On the other hand, while there are certainly a number of problems, they can be overlooked by the unshakable amount of merits in this story, mostly the tragedy of innocence. All in all, this book is an excellent read, and therefore it deserves an outstanding rating and a recommendation to anyone who is interested.


The book will appeal to a wide audience, particularly history buffs and those interested in the Holocaust or Nazi Germany. This would be because there are little tidbits of information and references throughout the story. For example, Bruno’s mother once addressed Hitler’s mistress, Eva Braun, as ‘her’, with a hint of dislike. In fact, Eva Braun was abhorred among Hitler’s inner circle, and Bruno’s father was implied to be an essential man to the head of state. There are many more examples, but it would take all day to list them all. Another demographic that may enjoy this book is to those who adore a fine coming of age story, but beware of some cruelty that is present. After all, it is the Holocaust, and there is some implications that an S.S. man killed someone Bruno admired. Also, if someone desires a twist on the typical childhood tale, than read this book. There cannot be much more said than that, or otherwise the entire story will be spoiled. In any case, a majority of people should enjoy and relate to this tale, so if anyone is interested, pick it up. It’s a really fast read, and can even be read in a matter of hours if you were to sit down and focus on it. Have faith, and you will not regret a single penny.





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proudmoemoe said...
Oct. 5, 2011 at 8:26 am

Excellent review.  I am going to buy the book based on your recommendation which indicates it will be of interest to me based on subject matter, historical timing and writer's abilities with dialogue.  

Thanks for the thoughtful review.

 
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