the boy in striped pajams
Book Reviews

Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Book review

Boy in the Striped Pajamas – Book review

Book : The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author – John Boyne

Genre Historical / post modern

My rating : 4/5

Plot summary:

From Wikipedia:

Bruno is a 9-year-old boy growing up during World War II in Berlin. He lives with his parents, his 12-year-old sister Gretel, whom he describes as ‘A Hopeless Case,’ and maids, one of whom is named Maria. After a visit by Adolf Hitler, Bruno’s father is promoted to Commandant, and the family has to move to “Out-With” because of the orders of “The Fury” (Bruno’s naïve interpretation of the word “Führer“). Bruno is initially upset about moving to Out-With (in actuality, Auschwitz) and leaving his friends, Daniel, Karl and Martin. From the house at Out-With, Bruno sees a camp in which the prisoners wear “striped pyjamas” (prison clothes). One day, Bruno decides to explore the wire fence surrounding the camp. As he walks along the fence, he meets a Jewish boy named Shmuel, who he learns shares his birthday and age. Shmuel says that his father, grandfather, and brother are with him on his side of the fence, but he is separated from his mother. Bruno and Shmuel talk and become very good friends, although Bruno still does not understand very much about Shmuel and his side of the fence. Nearly every day, unless it’s raining, Bruno goes to see Shmuel and sneaks him food. As he visits Shmuel more and more, Shmuel gets more and more skinny.

Bruno concocts a plan with Shmuel to sneak into the camp to look for Shmuel’s father. Shmuel brings a set of prison clothes (which look to Bruno like striped pyjamas), and Bruno leaves his own clothes outside the fence. As they search the camp, both children are rounded up along with a group of prisoners on a “march.” They are led into a gas chamber, which Bruno assumes is simply a shelter from the outside rainstorm. In the gas chamber, Bruno apologizes to Shmuel for not finding his father and tells Shmuel that he is his best friend for life. It’s unknown if Shmuel answers him because as soon as the door is closed, the lights go out and all is chaos. However, Bruno is determined that even in chaos, he will never let go of Shmuel’s hand.

Bruno is never seen again and days later, his clothes are discovered by a soldier. His mother spends months afterwards searching for him, even returning to their old home, before at last moving to Berlin with Gretel, who isolates herself in her room. Bruno’s father spends a year more at Out-With, becoming ruthless and cold-hearted towards his subordinates. A year later, he returns to the place where Bruno’s clothes were found and pieces together how his son disappeared, collapsing in grief. Months later, Allied Troops storm the camp and Bruno’s father, racked with guilt, allows himself to be taken prisoner.

The book ends with the phrase; “Of course, all of this happened a long time ago and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”

Thoughts

As the author, himself mentions on how he got to write this book with the lines “We live on the other side of the fence” , is something anyone who reads this book agrees with.

The story being told from the perspective of a 9-year-old boy has a different approach. The boy is very naive and doesn’t understand or draw up conclusions on things he sees or hears. It is also the case with many people , who live oblivious to the things going on, on the other side of the fence.

The first few chapters were an innocent boy’s observation of his new surroundings. A small adventure to find a friend, but when I came to the last chapter, my heart started racing already imagining the bad things that might happen if he crosses the fence…

Many details are left to the reader’s imagination, mostly the details on extermination chambers, keeping in mind that it is 9-year old’s side of the story and it is less heartbreaking than it would have been if the details were drafted.

This book made me look for other books about holocaust, and details of concentration camps.

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