April 2024
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Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne

One day, Bruno comes home to find a maid packing all of his things, even his personal things hidden at the back of his closet.  He’s very unhappy and even more so when he discovers that his family is moving away from Berlin, his three best friends, and even his grandparents.  At first glance, there are no children near Bruno’s new home, but there are a lot of people who wear striped pyjamas behind a fence.  Because Bruno is curious, he wanders away from the house, and his adventure, and all those following, illuminate the mind of a little boy who has no knowledge of prejudice and the true horror to which that prejudice can lead.

I almost can’t talk about my reaction to this book.  I sort of want to just say, read this, and leave it at that.  That wouldn’t be a very good review, though, and I like to at least pretend that I can write decent reviews.  Actually, I do think that if you haven’t read this, it might be a good idea to stop here, because this book is best knowing just what I’ve said and nothing more.

Easily, the best thing about this book is Bruno’s innocent response to everything.  He is just a little boy and doesn’t yet understand that all little boys’ lives aren’t exactly like his.  This is especially so because his three best friends have very similar lives to his.  His parents have kept him ignorant of world events, so he doesn’t know that he is in the midst of World War II.  He doesn’t know that he’s moved just outside of a concentration camp or that right now it’s a bad thing that his new friend through the fence is a Jew.  In fact, he thinks it’s cool that everyone wears the same clothes, and doesn’t understand that when someone goes missing in the camp, they haven’t wandered off, it’s because they’ve been killed.  He doesn’t realize that his father is a high-ranking Nazi and is causing these people to labor, starve, and die.

Bruno’s adorable personality made the book for me.  The rest of the characters are shadowy and insubstantial, witnessed only through a little boy’s eyes.  Shmuel’s suffering is obvious to us, for example, as people who are well-informed about history, but Bruno doesn’t understand, and as a result his character doesn’t develop very far.  As the plot progresses, and Bruno witnesses atrocities and pure human cruelty, he develops hatred for those who perpetuate them, but he still doesn’t grasp the overall situation even as it begins to touch the reader’s heart.

Overall, the beauty and simplicity lies in the fact that Bruno is too young to understand why these things are happening to people who are just like him.  His innocence makes the horror almost incomprehensible in comparison, and makes us wonder just how people can be so cruel, thoughtless, and prejudiced against others who are just like us but see the world in a slightly different way.

I loved The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, as much as I can love a book that is about the holocaust if that makes sense, and totally, completely recommend it.


13 comments to Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, John Boyne

  • I thought that this book was fantastic as well. I was hoping to go and hear John Boyne speak while he was at the Melbourne Writers Festival but in the end I haven’t been able to go to any sessions this year.

  • This is a great review! I think you don’t have to “pretend” to write good reviews! :–)

  • I stopped reading your review at your suggestion. I have this one to read. I know I need to read it.

  • Meghan, you’re a great book reviewer! Usually our tastes don’t collide much, but this book sounds truly phenomenal. It’s officially on my tbr list. :-)

  • lindymc

    Both my daughter and I read this book, and share your response to it. Like you said, it’s strange to “love” a book about this horrible period in history. Another book we read at about this same time covered the same historical period, and inspired a similar response: great book, emotionally wrenching. The title was The Book Thief. Have you read it? Highly recommended.

  • I think this book was wonderful, too. I know a lot of people questioned Bruno’s naivete, but it rang true for a child that age to me. Great review.

  • I guess I’m in the minority on this one. I would expect naivete, but not as much as there was. It ended up rubbing me the wrong way to the point where I just didn’t enjoy the book.

  • I’ve been meaning to read this for so long! I’m glad to hear you loved it so much.

  • This book sounds incredible and I have put it at the very top of my wish list. You gave it an outstanding review. It sounds both touching and interesting, and I will surely be looking forward to it. Thanks!

  • Oh I loved this book so much, great review. :)

  • While I did enjoy the book and I know that Boyne prefaces it by saying it’s a fable I had problems believing that the nine year old son of the head of a major concentration camp wasn’t a member of the Hitler youth. Perhaps I was asking too much of the book. I have Boyne’s new book, ‘The House of Special Purpose’ on the shelf now, so I can’t have been that alienated.

  • I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while, since I saw the movie (and cried). I’ll link to your review on War Through the Generations. Thanks!
    .-= Anna´s last blog ..Interview With Susan Higginbotham, Author of HUGH AND BESS =-.

  • Aalia

    I read the book but was not as ‘amazing’ or ‘touching’ as I expected. Yes it was sad but it was just another book I think.