Touching. Breathtaking. But also disturbing.
Date of publication: 5th January 2006
Country of the author: Ireland
Plot set in: Berlin, 1942
My personal rating: 9/10
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a novel about a nine-year-old boy called Bruno, growing up during World War II. When Bruno is forced to move with his parents away from Berlin to a small house far from home, he not only has to leave all his friends behind but also has to realise that his life will never be the same again. The reason for the move is a job promotion his father received. Arriving at the new place, Bruno had to
discover that there is no one who would play with him — he is alone. Gradually, the reader begins to have a suspicion that the father has a high position in a concentration camp, but his young son is unaware of the terrible and dreadful job his father has.
“What exactly was the difference? [Bruno] wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
As Bruno has no friends he could spend time with, he tried to entertain himself by going on so-called “adventures”. At this point, he desires to be an explorer. He decides to take a walk in order to discover the surroundings of the house. While exploring, he goes to a tall fence, which he sees from his bedroom window. He lingers along this high wired fence and suddenly spots somebody else sitting on the other side. He continues walking towards this person and then he sees that it is a boy of similar age as him. Enthusiastic by the prospect of having a new friend, Bruno introduces himself and starts to ask questions, like every explorer would. Although this other Jewish boy named Shmuel answers and explains everything, Bruno has not yet realised, let alone understood, that Shmuel’s situation differs a lot from his own. Between the two boys, there are worlds apart. From this day on, he visits him regularly and tries to play with him through the fence. These meetings result in a tight and unique friendship. Eventually, out of boredom Bruno crawls under the fence to discover Shmuel’s world.However, this close friendship, unfortunately, holds a disastrous aftermath.
“Heil Hitler,” he said, which, [Bruno] presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.”
Although this book looks at first glance like a children’s book due to the story line, the more or less simple style of writing and the rather large font. Notwithstanding, it is definitely not a novel for young readers. The entire story upsets and shocks. It is indeed a special book because a terrible event – the Holocaust – is described through the naive, childish and even egocentric view of Bruno. This tension of the dreadful actions made by the Nazis and the innocent boy causes an extreme suspense and also a consternation.
“…Despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.”
Especially the end shivers down one’s spine because it finishes abruptly and leaves some question unanswered.
Moreover, it reminds us of man’s capacity for inhumanity which we, unfortunately, have to witness day for day in the news…
I would rate this book 9/10 as the novel contains for my taste too many unanswered questions. Aside from that I think that it is a great book which gives you a different view and insight what hideous and abysmal things Jews had to experience during this time.
And remember, this horrible event happened only 70 years ago…
“Of course all this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”
A special thank you goes to my friend Kai who offered me his wonderful photographs for this post.
You can find more of his amazing work on his Instagram account.