Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I read this book for one of my book clubs that meets tonight. I'm anxious to see how the discussion will go. It's a YA novel, and I read it in just a couple of sittings. There's also a movie, but I haven't seen it. It's about two 9 year old boys who quite literally find themselves on opposite sides of a fence and neither knows what it all means. Bruno is the son of a high-ranking Nazi official who is put in charge of "Out-With". Bruno is never able to pronounce the word correctly. Schmuel is a young boy from Poland who was taken to the concentration camp along with the rest of his family. The thing that makes this book different from other books I've read on the Holocaust is the fact that it is told from such a young and naive perspective. The boys form an unlikely and secret friendship by meeting along a remote area of the fence each afternoon.

The edition I read has an author interview in the back, which is pretty interesting. The author is asked why he calls this a fable. I had missed this designation on the title page, so I went back and there it was -- The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: A Fable. A fable is basically a story which contains a moral. The author says that he wants to make this not simply about one concentration camp in one war. He wants the reader to be able to relate the story to any time period and any war. This is also why he never uses the word Auschwitz, but instead lets nine year old Bruno pronounce it Out-With. Bruno also calls Hitler the Fury instead of the Fuhrer. The moral is simple. Complacency is dangerous. Looking back, we all wonder how something like the Holocaust could have happened. Surely we would have spoken up or done something. The question we need to ask, and this is the message that Boyne is trying to get across, is what are we doing about the genocide that is taking place today?

There were a couple people who didn't read the book because of the subject matter. They felt it would be too disturbing. Those who did read it really enjoyed the book. I guess it's kind of strange to say you enjoyed a book which deals with such a terrible chapter in history, but you know what I mean. It is well-written and makes the reader think. For me, that's what good literature does. The only problem a couple people had with the book is that they felt that a nine year old would have been more aware of what was going on around him. I disagree. I think Bruno knew that something terrible was happening, but he didn't understand what it was. I've heard some people compare this to The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. In that it is a book about a child's view of the Holocaust, I agree. However, I think the similarities end there. I think because this book is written in third person, I never really identified with Bruno quite as much as I did the characters in The Book Thief. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas deals with a horrific tragedy that possibly could have been prevented. Hopefully, we never forget this. I'll leave you with a line from the book that I think pretty much sums it up. "Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter one."

12 comments:

Nymeth said...

Amazing review, Lisa. I need to read this bool/

Lisa said...

Nymeth, it is a really good book for a discussion group. Like I said, I really liked it, but wasn't as emotionally impacted as I was with The Book Thief. I didn't talk much about plot because I didn't want to give away the ending. Hope you enjoy it!

Tara said...

I'm really curious about this book/movie. It might be a good one for me to suggest to my bookclub. It's interesting to me that a couple people declined to read the book. Did they even start it?

Lisa said...

Tara, I think it's a great discussion book. No, the ones who didn't read it, didn't even start it. They said they felt it would be too disturbing/sad. I respect their feelings, but I always try the books that are chosen for the group. Some I like better than others, and sometimes I'm pleasantly surprised.

Oh said...

thanks for this review! I saw the poster for the movie when leaving the theatre last week and was curious. I was going to avoid it, but having read your impressions, I suspect it is something I will see.

Lisa said...

Oh, I haven't seen the movie, but I'd like to. I heard several people say the movie is quite different from the book.

Rebecca Reid said...

Great review! I'm adding it to my list.

I personally don't think a nine-year-old German boy could be *that* naive. But because the author is intentionally creating "a fable" I don't think it would matter for the book to succeed.

Lisa said...

Rebecca,
I agree. I think that was the author's intention to make it a universal story in which the specific details were not the important part.

Sherri said...

I love the way that John Boyne left a lot unsaid. It is what I liked most about his writing. As for Bruno, I think he was aware of more than he let on, but he was unwilling to admit it to himself. Every time Shmuel would start to tell him about something bad that was happening or had happened, Bruno would immediately find something in his own circumstances that would compare. It was almost as if he could compare Shmuel's life to his own then it couldn't be as bad as it seems. He knew in his heart that something terrible was happening to his friend. This was evident when he would talk about how thin and sick Shmuel looked, as well as noticing his hands. Also, Bruno knew that his father was involved in whatever was going on. Even though he knew it was bad, to admit it to himself would be to admit to himself that his father was bad. All of these factors played into Bruno's supposed innocence of it all.
I loved this novel as well as Boyne's style of writing. I thought it was very well done and left a lot for the reader to think about instead of just putting it out there in black and white.

Lisa said...

sherri, you summed it up nicely here. I agree with everything you said. Thanks for stopping by!

Anonymous said...

I read the book and it was great. I didn't understand the Fury or Out-With part until I read the article but now I find I find it cute and funny. It was a very good novel and it pains me to think what hapened to Bruno. I also wanted to learn a little less about Bruno and much-much more about his friend, Shemuel. I wanted to cry at the end but I couldn't bring myself to it. The book theif can definately compare. I hope you try out the book!

Rachel said...

I have been reading The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas at school. After we read it, we then watched the film. Although i found the film so powerful, I have to admit that I prefer the book. One of my all time top 5. :)