Published by David Fickling Books
Publication date: September 12th, 2006
Genres: Childhood, Fiction, Historical, Literary, Young Adult
Bruno is nine years old and lives with his parents and his annoying sister in Berlin. His father is a very important man in the German army and after his boss, the Fury comes to visit, Bruno and his family have to leave Berlin and move to a new home. Bruno is understandably upset—their home is a marvel of hidden rooms, places to hide and an amazing bannister for sliding down. He is even angrier when they reach their new home and it is smaller and dreary, not even in a real neighborhood so no friends to play with. There isn’t anything at all except a barbed wire fence nearby and beyond it ugly buildings with people and guards wandering around outside. This is the world Bruno inhabits in John Boyne’s young adult novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.
As an adult, it doesn’t take long to decipher Bruno’s world and realize that the Fury is the Fuhrer. More importantly, their new home, in a place he calls Out-With, is Auschwitz, and his father is the new Commandant. But Boyne writes so convincingly as a 9-year-old boy it is easy to see the world only from Bruno’s perspective. Which is why when he sets off on an adventure traveling far down along the fence and meets another little boy it is not incomprehensible that he doesn’t understand. In fact, he’s envious that Shmuel gets to wear pajamas all day. If he is thin, dirty, and his clothes shabby, it’s wartime and everyone is making sacrifices. He thinks his new friend is at camp, not in one. It is only when Bruno’s secret world collides with reality that everything collapses.
Bruno may be oblivious to the reality of Auschwitz, but for every page that extends his view of the world, Boyne ensures that we see the beliefs and actions of those around him, from his sister to the soldiers who work for his father. There is no shield for the reader. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a slender bit of a book, but as I reached its ending my mind was chanting ‘No, No, No, No’ and I felt a click as my heart cracked. So much pain, so simply written. Like a sigh, there and gone, without even disturbing the air around it, but leaving the pressing weight of sadness behind it.