John Boyne – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

★★★½

“We’re not supposed to be friends, you and me. We’re meant to be enemies. Did you know that? ” 

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Title: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Language: English
Publication details: UK: David Fickling Books, 2008. (First published 2006)
Pages: 216

My ponderings:

This book is about the holocaust, if you couldn’t already tell from the cover. I’m not really sure if the book was really ever intended for a child audience, but you sure ain’t fooling any kid with the cover presented now. I recall seeing “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” when I was younger; when it still had the plain, striped cover. I admit, without reading the blurb or the inside of the book, I assumed it was going to be a story about some kid and his adventures in his pyjamas. Don’t think I would have fallen for it with the new cover though.

Maybe the author thought that surely by now, everyone is aware of what his book is about. In his defense, it did sell about a million copies or something, right?

My initial, untarnished view of this book was that it was a simple, touching read about the friendship of two boys on the opposite side of the fence during the holocaust. I then meandered over to goodreads and found that a majority of people hated this book. I do agree that I too found Bruno to be conveniently, and rather astonishingly ignorant towards the world and circumstances surrounding him. Especially given that his father is a German officer. The fact that he pronounced Auschwitz as out-with was rather…odd, and his sister was dumb as bricks for a 12 year old!

Heil Hitler,” he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.” 

I presume that being in Nazi Germany, Bruno knows German and is capable of understanding the word Heil and knowing that his leader is called Hitler.
At times I really wanted to clout Bruno over the head for being insensitive as he was, because really, who sees their friend all emaciated and wearing the same clothes everyday and being so obviously, tragically sad and fearful, and starts complaining about their own problems? Are nine year olds really that selfish? Or just plain obtuse?

“Well you’ve been brought here against your will, just like I have. If you ask me, we’re all in the same boat. And it’s leaking.” 

I don’t know Bruno, brought here against your will is a really wide term!

Egads, I think I’m failing horribly at not being influenced by Goodreads’ negative opinion of this book. I understand that Boyne very much underplayed the atrocities of the holocaust by making everything a little more “family-friendly”, to the point where the validity of the facts were threatened, but to be really honest, this didn’t really disrupt my experience of reading the story.

I was engaged with the characters; I actually longed to know more of Lieutenant Kotler’s story. Boyne did set him up as rather grey at first, but then he defaulted to black. It would be interesting to see all his facets, but I guess Boyne preferred to keep the story simple.

All in all, the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel actually did touch my heart.

“…Despite the mayhem that followed, Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let go.” 

The story was trying to capture the innocence between two children who do not realize what atrocities are committed due to the differences in their religion, race and culture, and I feel that it actually succeeded. It did show that at heart, children aren’t aware of their differences. Sure, it’s an age old lesson that we’ve heard a million times, but it still warms the heart, especially when taking place in such a time when a bigger calamity over differences could not have occurred.

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“He looked down and did something quite out of character for him: he took hold of Shmuel’s tiny hand in his and squeezed it tightly.
“You’re my best friend, Shmuel,” he said. “My best friend for life.” 

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Spoiler alert.
Surprisingly, tears were not shed when I read this book. Though I have to say I did nazi that ending coming (sorry, sorry, I just had to). I knew it was going to end badly, sure, but still didn’t expect that. I actually really liked the ending. Not in a sadistic way, but I just thought it was really sad…and touching.

I would recommend reading this book, but to keep in mind that the Nazis acted way worse then what is described here. It’s still a touching story about friendship during an abominable time.

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Remus Lupin, what are you doing here?
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