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The Boy in the Striped Pajams (Review)

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
(Book Report)

“The Boy in the Striped Pajamas”, written by John Boyne, resolves around a nine year old boy named Bruno. He is a very curious and innocent child who also has an older sister named Gretel; whom he thinks of as a “hopeless case”. Throughout the story readers noticed that Bruno doesn’t know many things that are happening in Germany at this time; such as Nazis, the persecution of Jews, or the dictator of Germany, Adolf Hitler. Therefore, as the story progresses, readers see that Bruno asks people many personal questions about their past. I believe that John Boyne purposefully created Bruno in such a manner so that people who read this novel can better understand how life was in the late 1930s from the perspective of Jews and Germans.

In the beginning of the story Bruno starts his adventure in a large house in Berlin, Germany. However, that soon changes when he comes home to find his maid packing his belongings. His initial reaction was shock and he told his maid to stop what she was doing. Thankfully, his mother walked in to resolve the matter and explained to Bruno that they would be moving. She didn’t give him many details at first but told him that due to a promotion that his father got they are to be relocated to a new house, away from Berlin. Bruno still didn’t understand why they had to move and when they stepped into a two-storey house, with no best friends for life and a lack of banisters to slide on, he was greatly depressed. Bruno did not know anything about his new surroundings other than that he would be staying there for the “foreseeable-future”. Also, there was a fence that surrounded a small “farm”. In this farm there were many “non-friendly looking people” as Bruno put it; who wore striped pajamas.

It had been a couple days after their arrival in out-with and Bruno was not finding the place any more enjoyable. He was only lazing around staring at the ceiling when his maid Maria walked into his room. In this part of the story readers get to see how some Jews acted towards Germans. Also, we get a better picture of Bruno’s personality and how he likes to speak his mind. Bruno decided to unfold all his frustration on Maria and complain to her how boring this new place was. He hated the house and couldn’t understand why his “stupid” father forced them all to move here. Bruno also expected Maria to agree with him but instead she told Bruno, “There are many things which your father has done”, she said. “Many things of which you should be proud. If it wasn’t for your father, where would I be now after all?” This part of the book is one of my favourites. It shows how not all Jews despised the Germans; as we would have thought. This scene may be one of the most important because of two reasons. The first is that it gives readers the first perspective of a Jew toward a German. The second is that Maria’s perspective is controversial to our thoughts of the interaction between Jews and Germans-it makes readers think more of life back in the 30s-40s. Be that as it may, it wasn’t as if all Jews and Germans respected each other. The fact of the matter is that most did not. Before Bruno and Maria were able to finish their conversation Gretel interrupted them and when she saw them talking she was stunned. It was as if talking to a maid was inhumane. Gretel rudely ordered Maria to run her bath and felt like the Jewish maid should do whatever she is told. This is extremely significant to the book because it shows that Gretel has been greatly influenced by the adults; on how they treat Jews. (This influence progresses as the story goes on.) This was how things were back in those days; kids saw how adults acted towards Jews so they did the same and as they get older they usually develop the same mind set as their elders.

Many weeks went by since Bruno’s initial appearance at out-with. Nothing has been changing even though he’s been here for more than a month. Bruno misses many things of Berlin including his three best friends for life. One day in his room, Bruno became very curious to what was on the outside of his house. He realized that even though he had been here for so long he has never actually been outside. Today that would come to an end. His mother and father have told Bruno many times to not go near the fence surrounding the camp but frustration and curiosity overpowered his parents’ orders. Bruno walked through a forest and along the fence of the camp. He continued advancing along the fence until he saw a boy that looked to be around his age. The first thing that came to Bruno was excitement; after a month of loneliness he has finally found a child his age with whom he could speak with. The young boy lived on the other side of the fence in the same striped pajamas that Bruno had seen them wear. In this scene we truly see Bruno’s innocence. The boy behind the fence whom was named Shmuel explained to Bruno his past and how he came to live behind the fence. Even so, Bruno didn’t understand any of it. When Shmuel was finished with his story he told Bruno, “Mama was taken away from us, and Papa and Josef and I were put into the huts over there and that’s where we have been ever since”. Despite that Bruno couldn’t understand why Shmuel looked so sad. He believed that Shmuel was in the same position as him because they were both forced to live in this place. It’s only until much later that Bruno comes to understand the conflicts that are surrounding him.

By now it was obvious to Bruno that they would be staying here longer than the “foreseeable-future”. Bruno wasn’t as lonely anymore though because he now had Shmuel to speak with. They talk to each other every day and we learn more about Shmuel and get a greater understanding of the Jews behind the fence. Shmuel explains to Bruno that the soldiers abuse them every day and that he’s scared of them. Bruno wants Shmuel to know that his father is not like the rest of the soldiers. Still, Shmuel replies, “There are no good soldiers”. It’s fairly obvious that a majority if not all the soldiers despised Jewish people. For people who serve under Hitler it was a must. Lieutenant Kotler was no exception to this. Kotler is a soldier who worked for Bruno’s father; the commandment. For tonight he was invited to dinner with the family. Throughout the story it is obvious to readers that many Germans didn’t like Jews and John Boyne uses this scene to show how intense the abuse against Jews was during this time. At the dinner table we learn about Kotler’s past; his father left him several years ago to teach at a university in Switzerland. Bruno’s dad thought it was strange for Kotler’s father to leave at Germany’s greatest glory. Then he said to Lieutenant Kotler, “One hears tales of men like this from time to time. Curious fellows, I imagine. Disturbed, some of them. Traitors, others. Cowards too” After the commandment said this it was easy to see how uncomfortable the young soldier was. Then it made me think; that perhaps the soldiers wanted people who they could throw their anger at. They wanted to blame the Jewish people for all their embarrassments and problems during the Great Depression. I still can’t agree with the way they treated Jews but I can at least understand why they did it because we all want to blame someone else for our own problems. Regardless, what Lieutenant Kotler did to the butler after the discussion was inexcusable. The Butler was very old and during dinner Bruno noticed how weak and tired he looked. When butler Pavel poured the lieutenant wine it spilled all over his lap. Kotler grew furious and “no one…stepped in to stop him doing what he did next, even though none of them could watch. Even though it made Bruno cry and Gretel grow Pale”.

This week Bruno and his mother were planning for his father’s birthday. Even though his dad did not want a big fuss, he and his mother wished to make it as memorable as possible. On this particular day Bruno chooses to take a break and read one of his favourite adventure books. When he steps into the kitchen he sees Shmuel cleaning the wine glasses for the party. Both the boys were very surprised but thrilled at the same time. Shmuel told Bruno how Lieutenant Kotler brought him in because they needed someone with tiny fingers. When Bruno looked closer at Shmuel he could see that his friend was looking worse than when he last saw him. His skin was grey and you were able to see the veins through his hands. Bruno was beginning to understand that out-with could not have been a good place if it made his friend look like this. Not wanting to stare any longer Bruno goes to the fridge and makes himself a sandwich, then offers Shmuel a slice. However, Shmuel knew that if he was caught eating he would be in serious trouble so he refused Bruno’s offer. Even though he was starving he feared what Kotler would do to him if he was caught. Nevertheless, Bruno insisted and after minutes of persuasion Shmuel gave in. This was a huge mistake because after he finishes Kotler comes in and finds out that he had recently eaten. Kotler accuses him of stealing and threatens him, but when Shmuel says that the food was given to him by Bruno, Kotler diverts his anger. “Have you been talking to the prisoners? Tell me Bruno!” shouted Kotler, his face growing red. “I’ve never spoken to him” said Bruno. “I’ve never seen him before in my life. I don’t know him.” Bruno is only a child, so in this situation he must have been really scared because Kotler was yelling at him. What he did was still wrong but he is only 9 years old so, it’s understandable. When I read this it gave me a better understanding of the holocaust. If a soldier thought that someone had any affiliation with a Jew they would do anything to get the truth out; even if it was a child. Then when I read further on and found out that Kotler had beaten Shmuel up it made me feel sad. The wrath of soldiers would not cease for a weak and hungry nine year old boy. Shmuel had a black eye and many bruising’s on his face and still, he forgave Bruno. This made me wonder; was it really possible for Jews to have such a friendship with a German?

Today is Bruno’s last day at out-with. A few weeks ago, his mother had persuaded his father to allow them to move back home in Berlin. They both agreed that out-with was not a safe place for children to grow up in. Ironically, Bruno did not want to go home. He had been having so much fun with Shmuel that he would rather stay, but his father would not allow it. When he travelled to the fence to tell Shmuel the bad news, Shmuel had news of his own. His father had gone with a group of men and soldiers some days ago and no one has seen them since. Bruno felt sad for his friend so, he offered his assistance in the search for his dad. This was also a good way to make it up to Shmuel for when he had betrayed him and as a bonus he could finally see how things were on the other side of the fence. It was going to be an exploration. This brings us back to today. Bruno put on his boots and raced to the camp. There he met Shmuel with the disguises. Bruno couldn’t just waltz into the camp so; Shmuel had taken striped pajamas from storage for his friend to wear. Bruno slipped on his new clothes and crawled under the fence. When Bruno looks around the area that his friend lives in he was shocked. It was nothing like he had thought it would be. There were no adults on rocking chairs, no kids playing together in groups and certainly no cafés or stalls. In this chapter Bruno at last understand that out-with is not the fun land he had always thought. In Auschwitz, people were sad, and everyone was looking at the ground. The soldiers had not only killed Jews they demoralized them. In these concentration camps the Jews tried to continue their culture but it was difficult. Bruno became scared and wanted to go home but he had promised Shmuel to help find his father and he didn’t want to abandon his friend a second time. They trudged on searching for Shmuel’s father but when they were about to give up a whistle blew. The soldiers herded all the Jews into a group for a march. Bruno didn’t know what was going on and everyone was panicking with the two boys’ right in the middle of it. After a while they were lead into a shelter that seemed to be air tight. By this time people were screaming and yelling; Bruno tried to calm them down saying that his father was in charge so whatever is going on it could not be bad. Then the lights shut off and Bruno heard a noise. He held Shmuel’s hand and took his last breath.
***

This book was very dramatic and I felt that it showed a perfect depiction of the holocaust. It was clear that John Boyne had done research before he began working on this book and it shows trough his success. The story wasn’t hard to believe. It really hurts that Nazis did such terrible things to people just because of their ethnic background. I had learned a lot of things in history before I started reading this book so I knew what to expect. Even so, this book may be fiction but it hurts to know that it was based on reality. I think that Mr. Boyne made this novel as unpredictable as possible by putting in twists and turns for Bruno’s relationship with Shmuel. The most surprising part of the story for me was when I realised that Bruno’s father was working for Hitler; then everything that happened before made perfect sense. What I really liked about this book are Bruno’s fights with Gretel. I find it really funny how they interact with each other and I think the funniest thing Bruno said was, “You’ll have to forgive my sister, Lieutenant Kotler,” he added politely, “but she’s a Hopeless Case. There’s very little we can do for her. The doctors say that she has gone past the point of help.” John Boyne was able to put serious and sad events in his book while still keeping a light atmosphere; making the book a good read for all ages. Nevertheless, my only problems with this book are the setting and the protagonist. I felt that the book could have been more interesting if we saw Bruno going to different locations and meeting different people; Jews and Germans. Also, Bruno stayed the same throughout the book. From beginning to end, he was still innocent and childish. As a main character John Boyne should have written him more dynamic. Meaning, Bruno would change psychologically as the story progresses. Besides those two problems, the detail and atmosphere of the book made it very enjoyable. If I were to rate it I would give “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas” 4/5 stars.



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LongLazyDays55 said...
Aug. 2, 2012 at 12:10 pm
We read the book in English first, then watched the film. I think the book is best. At the end of the film, the ending is completely different from the book, (if I remember correctly!) Keep writing! :D
 
writer65 replied...
Apr. 16, 2013 at 7:46 pm
Thank you :) Please tell others about this and read the rest of my writings. I am trying my best to get my stories heard.
 
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