The Boy In Striped Pajamas

September 10, 2008
I am a girl.
I am a teenage girl, actually, and I am one of those a teenage girls who unashamedly swoops on every women's magazine available and pours over every page; delightedly reading Cosmopolitan's take on trends for autumn and squealing in delight at the cute little samples of moisturisers and shampoos and perfumes with long-winded names and brazen celebrity endorsers. I am also one of those teenage girls that buys books with names like Fashionistas and Princess Diaries with covers that look as though Barbie, Sindy and the entire cast of Bratz threw up all over them. I enjoy these books, I relate to these books, and no amount of pestering from my Dickens-clutching friends can sway me otherwise.
It was rather unlikely, then, that one of my favourite books of all time would be one that does not mention television once, involves approximately zero pairs of high heeled shoes and has two nine-year-old boys as the main characters, one that spends the entire time pyjama-clad. But ever since my Mother, who knows all there is to know about books (and probably more), scooped this book from its snug space on the shelf and placed it into my hands, my days of pondering the meaning of shoes were well and truly over.
Because this, John Boyne's fourth and perhaps most thoughtful novel, is a book to challenge the most critical thinkers, to stun the most avid readers, and above all, to reduce even the most hard-heartened of critics to softened philosophers. It's narrative, led charmingly matter-of-factly by nine-year-old Bruno, takes the unsuspecting reader through a reasonably basic plotline, woven with barbed wire and curling maliciously through the 1940s until it comes to an abrupt, unusually unpredictable end. There are no bombs, no epic tales of hard-fought battles, no tedious accounts of 20th century politics, and, perhaps most significantly, no horrifying tales of Auschwitz and it's unforgiveable deeds. “Out-With” is a place of which both ourselves and Bruno know, at the beginning of the tale, relatively nothing; only with time and page turns do we realise that Out-With is Auschwitz, Bruno's father is a Commandant, and the people in “striped pyjamas” that Bruno spies from his bedroom window are, in fact, the prisoners.
While we as readers no doubt know of Auschwitz and its horror stories, Bruno, who is continually hard to place in our mental “Goodie/Baddie” categories, sees it through the innocent eyes of a nine-year-old who has known nothing but small-boy friendships and sliding down banisters and five-storey mansions and dinners with Uncle Adolf. This is not only a fresh perspective on these historical events, but is also heartbreakingly frustrating. “Bruno!” you want to cry, scream into the pages at this small German boy, “WAKE UP!”
This only becomes more present as the story unravels itself: when Bruno meets and befriends a small boy on the other side of the fence, a boy in striped pyjamas, you as a reader are desperate for Bruno to realise his father's wrongdoings and do anything a child could do in that situation, though arguably this is not much.
I believe it is the concept of children that makes this book an astounding read: there are no brutal tales of people being herded into gas chambers, no heartbreaking tales of the cattle trains jammed full of innocent people taken to their inevitable deaths; no devastation, no unbelieveable horror. Just the innocent friendship between one boy and another, who are strikingly similar but desperately different all in one doomed flourish, and this for me echoes thousands of heartwrenching tales involving love and friendship and togetherness that were torn viciously apart by the events of the Holocaust.
This book is beautifully constructed and carefully planned, deftly sweeping you along to its finish with a devastating abruptness, despite alledgedly being written in three short days. It shows all that is evil and cruel in the world and defies it with two young boys wanting nothing more than a companion to explore with. It is hard to explain more without giving away its' astounding ending:
so read this book.
Read it, get your friends to read it, get your parents and grandparents and aunts and uncles and cousins and third cousins twice removed to read it, leave it on a bus with a giant Post-It note stuck to it saying “READ THIS!”, send it to your favourite celebrity in a fanmail urging them to read it: read this book. I could not recommend it more highly without personally coming to your door and frogmarching you to an armchair with a copy of this book in your hands.


In February this year, after reading this book along with the Diary of Anne Frank and studying History at school, I travelled to Krakow, Poland with my school with the intention of visiting Auschwitz. We went on a brutally cold day, the kind of cold that stings you when you touch the air and freezes you to the core; the wind was bitter and the day was bleak. I cannot describe what I saw and what I felt that day, but I can honestly say that never shall I forget it, and never should anyone. It was mindnumbing yet thought provoking and as I watched the reflection of the moon shimmering across the lake on our coach journey back I thought and yes, I cried: for them, for the innocent, for the young and the hopeful, for the owners of the suitcases and the toothbrushes and the shoes and the prayer shawls, for the bravery, for the injustice and for the indignance, for what could have been and what should have been, for what never should have been and for Anne and for Bruno and, of course: for The Boy In Striped Pyjamas.

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This article has 2 comments. Post your own now!

Samantha V. said...
Feb. 24, 2009 at 7:47 pm
That was a very good review. I read the book and was thinking about the ending for a long time.
inkstain said...
Sept. 20, 2008 at 4:51 pm
That was an excellent review... I shall go out and buy the book today.
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