The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne (Author)
The jacket of this novel mentions fences, a 9-year-old boy called Bruno and a journey. Other than this brief information the publishers have tried to keep the elements of the story screened from readers until they follow that journey. There is a lot to be said for reading this book with no prior knowledge of the subject or the setting. If you want to discover this book as the publishers have intended, then please stop reading this review.
Nine-year-old Bruno is indeed the central character and the events unfold through his eyes and ears. It begins with an abrupt family move from Berlin to ‘Out-With’, where his father has been promoted to commandant. Bruno is unaware of the nature of his father’s work and fails to understand his new surroundings. His curiosity, along with boredom and loneliness, lead him along the perimeter fence and here he meets Schmuel, a boy of the same age. They meet regularly and conversations with Schmuel provide much of the information about life on the other side of the fence as well as shedding light on Bruno’s life here and in Berlin.
This slow unfolding of information is effective. The pace of the plot works and the interests of a 9-year-old boy are accurately drawn. The most unbelievable element unfortunately remains Bruno. The naïve protagonist allows the story to be played out but his passivity makes him less real. He accepts all and reasons nothing beyond the changes in his daily routine. An inquisitiveness and an ambition to be an explorer is only represented in his quest for physical discovery, never a quest for understanding. He seems only to wonder but never to reason, to question but never to answer. The concept is robust and the surrounding characters, particularly Bruno’s parents, are credible and vital.
This is a book which sensitively deals with the Holocaust and is bound to provoke questions in young readers. Age 12+