The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
It is 1942. Nine-year-old Bruno comes home one day to discover that all his belongings are being packed into boxes. His father, a soldier, has just been promoted, and they are moving to a house far away, outside of Berlin. At first, Bruno sulks, mourning the loss of his three best friends and the old house, which was much bigger and had a banister to slide down. Soon, though, he remembers how he used to explore back in Berlin and decides to go for a walk one day. It is this decision that leads him to a boy who sits on the other side of a long, tall fence where there are hundreds of strange people all wearing the same grey, striped pajamas. And it is his friendship with this boy that leads to unexpected and drastic consequences.
Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres and I frequently look for one to read. When I searched “historical fiction books,” this book caught my eye because I had watched the movie several years before and really liked it. This seemingly simple story has a much deeper meaning than what might originally be thought, given its presentation.
The author chose a writing style that is very easy to read, one that presents Bruno’s thoughts directly to the reader, as if following all his thought processes exactly as they happen in his mind. As you might expect from a nine-year-old, his thoughts are often very immature. In addition, he seems to be very pleased with the conclusions he comes to and sees himself as mature – at least much more mature than his irritating sister Gretel makes him out to be – and very knowledgeable.
There are many events in the book that Bruno does not understand, but that are told in such a way that the reader knows perfectly well what is going on, even though nothing is explained explicitly. I thought this was an interesting way to tell a story, and it actually appealed to me. It gives the reader a sense of what the mind of a young boy must seem like to those much older.
Occasionally, Bruno mispronounces the names of certain places or people, and this lends a certain meaning or character to what he is mispronouncing. For example, Bruno calls Hitler “the Fury.” He is trying to say “Führer,” but is unable to correctly pronounce the word. However, the implications the author is trying to make are clear. One can see how the word “fury” might be related to Hitler.
Since it had seemed there were no other children near their new home, Bruno is delighted when he meets Schmuel, the boy on the other side of the fence. He sees him as a possible friend, one to replace those he lost after moving from Berlin. It is an interesting relationship, as they must talk to each other through the wire fence and cannot interact physically. He tells no one of his new friend, however, and one cannot help but wonder if this was a grave mistake.
The author seems to be cautioning readers to take care: wrong choices can have terrible consequences. He is referring, I think, not to Bruno, but to another character in the book, one which I will not reveal so that you may realize it for yourself.
Having already watched the movie, I could anticipate the occurrences of most of the major events, but this did not lessen my enjoyment of the book in the least. I would highly recommend this book for everyone except the very young. Young children may not be able to fully understand the implications of this story. However, I think a wide range of readers, including those on the younger side, will enjoy and appreciate this book.