Saturday, February 20, 2010

review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

genre: young adult(?) holocaust fiction

Bruno lived a comfortable and happy life in Berlin for nine years, until suddenly he has to up and move...somewhere. Somewhere for his father's new job, somewhere not really pleasant at all. And despite all his questions, Bruno has a hard time figuring out why anyone would WANT to be there, and especially why anyone would want to be on the other side of that fence, where everyone wears striped pajamas all day. Then one day, while out exploring, he happens upon another boy, from that other side, and thus a most unlikely friendship begins.

I have such mixed feelings about this book, strangely - and I know that most reviews I've read have been by people who thoroughly love it, so that surprised me. I appreciate that it's meant to be an allegory, to try and get us to think about how if the differences we place on ourselves were suddenly wiped away, how much we would all have in common. The high points: I thought the pacing of the story was good - I read it in a day, I was interested enough and it was well written enough. Having a daughter at the age of Bruno, I did feel like he got Bruno's personality pretty spot on, his curiosity and the way he tried to reason things out for himself, all that was good. And it was an interesting experiment, to see the Holocaust from an "innocent" point of view.

BUT. I think my problem stems from the fact that I have just read too much about concentration camps to let myself fully suspend my disbelief. It was so clearly one specific concentration camp that the story was set in and I just could not believe that such a scenario would have happened, as incredible and beautiful as it is. Clearly, this problem would not bother all readers, but take it for what it is. I was also constantly bogged down by the fact that Bruno seemed to not understand many things that were said to him in German - he didn't know what a Jew was? or what Fuhrer means? In Germany at that time? Knowing, very intimately, a 9 year old myself, I just couldn't believe that either. And the ending left me feeling like I'd been dropped on my head. For this reader, it wasn't as satisfying to me as I'd hoped it would be.


Tricia said...

I read this book more like a fable so the naivete thing didn't bug me that much. I think the less you know about this book going into it, the better. I really loved it when I read it 18 months ago. But, I have no desire to see the movie.

bermudaonion said...

I really enjoyed this book too, but totally agree with you that it's necessary to suspend belief in order to.

Anna said...

I haven't read the book, but I saw the movie and some of the same complaints you did. Still, I wouldn't mind reading the book at some point.

I hope it's okay that I linked to your review on the Book Reviews: WWII page on War Through the Generations.

Diary of an Eccentric

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