Book #36

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Nine-year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas.
This is an incredible story, and one I would definitely recommend to all. The Final Solution through the eyes of a naive, non-Jewish nine-year-old is something I've certainly never experienced. This is a topic which has been written about so broadly that this new slant was quite exotic to me. Boyne's juxtaposition of evil and innocence was perfect, and seemed to shine an even darker light on this awful time.

Bruno's narration is wonderful in many ways, particularly in its simplicity. It's very easy to see him slowly begin to realise that something isn't quite right with his new home, or the people in striped pyjamas outside his window. You see him ask questions, but then pretending he didn't hear the answer, or avoiding certain topics of conversation entirely. Some dialogue in the novel is missed out completely because it was over Bruno's head, and he didn't understand it enough to repeat to us.

With that being said, and although I loved the book, there are some glaring plot holes which I imagine would irritate many. Bruno thinks Hitler is referred to as 'the Fury' and Auschwitz 'Out-With'. Bruno can only speak German, so why he would relate both phrases in English, I have no real clue. He doesn't know what 'Heil Hitler' means, and believes it's a way of greeting someone. With a father ranked so highly in the regime, surely Bruno would know who Hitler was? He would certainly understand the word heil, being a German speaker. On the point of his father's role, surely Bruno would know what a Jew was? Can you believe that a section of fence in Auschwitz was perpetually unpatrolled and even had a space at the bottom small enough to crawl through? And no one tried to escape through this hole? I realise this is all very meticulous of me, but come on.

The ending was raw and horrific, and has stayed with me since finishing the novel last night. I wasn't expecting it at all, and its power completely devastated me. There is no glimmer of hope after the last page, nothing to reassure the reader, and I think this is a good thing. Why should there be?