The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

I knew only the basic premise of this book when I chose it for several challenges. I knew that it fit into the WWII category, that it is categorized as YA, and that it was Jewish Literature about the Holocaust.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is the story of Bruno, a nine-year-old boy, who comes home one day to find that his family is moving due to his father’s job. Bruno is the son of a German officer who will be the Commandant of the Auschwitz concentration camp. From his bedroom window he has seen people in “striped pajamas” behind a fence. Curious about why they are there as well as lonely, Bruno sets out exploring. He goes to the fence and he happens to meet a boy named Shmuel who is very similar to Bruno in many ways. They even share the same birthday. However, their lives are obviously very different.

As I was listening to this book, I kept thinking that I was really enjoying the fact that I was hearing this from the perspective of a German child. I have read about concentration camps from the perspective of a Jewish child. The horrors are unimaginable. But to gain some insight as to how it is possible that people stood by and allowed this to happen is definitely different.

Bruno is pretty naive. He is just a little boy who counts on his parents to take care of him. He figures they know best and doesn’t worry too much about the rest. In fact, I thought that Bruno’s cluelessness was a bit unrealistic until I listened to the author’s interview at the end of the book. He spoke about the fact that The Holocaust is hindsight for us. We look back with the perspective that we know this happened. It is part of the landscape of our past. However, during the time that this was going on and when the concentration camps were liberated, even adults believed that the stories of the atrocities were just rumors and that something this monstrous could not be happening. He also talks about complacency and the fact that victims of the concentration camps were marched through neighboring villages and people did nothing. That is something that I hadn’t considered and changed my opinion. I do think that Bruno was immature for a nine-year-old by today’s standards. I did have a hard time believing that he couldn’t catch on to the names of Auschwitz(Out With) and the Fuhrer(The Fury). However, I concede that it’s possible that without some of the outside influences we have today in the picture, nine-year-olds were much more innocent sixty or so years ago.

At any rate, those things were minor for me as was the fact that I figured out what was going to happen pretty early on it the book. There were no shocks and though the convergence of the events seems improbable, stranger things happen every day and ultimately, I was willing to suspend disbelief for the message that was conveyed.

I am not sure if the author interview is available in the regular book. However, listening to John Boyne explain why he did what he did with his characters made a huge difference to me. The book and the writing are excellent. The thought process behind them make this book superior.

This is a must-read for anyone who is breathing so that we don’t become complacent again. (5/5)