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."