Sunday, 3 May 2015

Book Review - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne | ★★★

Bruno is a nine year old boy, who grew up in Berlin during World War II. His family is wealthy and they live in a five-story house with servants. He has a 12-year-old sister, Gretel. 

Bruno doesn´t know his father´s profession, but he wears an impressive uniform and they have been visited by a very important man called the Fury. After that visit, Bruno´s father got an even nicer uniform, his title changed to Commandant and they move to a new home at a place called Out-With. 

The new home is smaller and always full of soldiers. Bruno doesn´t like it and the worst thing for him is that there is nobody to play with. He has a small window in his bedroom from which he can see a town of people all dressed in striped pyjamas. The strange thing was that they were separated from him by a large fence. He approaches his father about them and asks who they are, he responds that they aren´t really people. 

“What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas and which people wore the uniforms?

One day Bruno is so bored, he decides to go and explore the house´s surroundings, despite the fact that doing so disobeys the rules of his parents. He follows the fence in the way where he thinks the town of the pyjama wearing people should be. After walking for about an hour, he notices a dot in the distance and as he got closer, it turned out to be a boy. Excited about finding someone his age, he introduces himself. The boy´s name is Shmuel. From that point forward, they would meet at the same place almost every day and talk. They become friends and Bruno finds out, that Shmuel too had to leave his home for the same reason: The Fury. 

Their friendship destroys ethnic and religious boundaries, but unfortunately it ends in a cruel twist of fate. 
“Bruno: We're not supposed to be friends, you and me. We're meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ” 
“The thing about exploring is that you have to know whether the thing you've found is worth finding. Some things are just sitting there, minding their own business, waiting to be discovered. Like America. And other things are probably better off left alone. Like a dead mouse at the back of the cupboard.” 
The story doesn´t need much effort to read and puts you right in to Bruno´s worldview. Author John Boyne warns us that this is a fable, a tale and that it´s not true; even though some moments when we get a glance of the horrors of Auschwitz do show that Boyne stays true to real events of that time.

This story, told from the view of a 9-year-old, affects readers in a couple of different ways: it spares us from most of the horror of Auschwitz, there are some moments of sensible humour such as Bruno´s mistaken pronunciation of Auschwitz (Out-With) and ´Der Führer´ (The Fury), but it also increases the shock we feel for the events of that time. It gives us a new perspective and a story a story that invokes empathy, although we will never understand what it was like. 

This book will raise some thought-provoking questions and you will likely think about it for a long time after you finished reading it, which isn´t bad, so don´t banish the thought of reading it.