The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (Review)

February 11, 2013

Book cover for "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" by John Boyne.Title: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Author: John Boyne

Narrator: Michael Maloney

Publication Year: 2006

Pages: 240 (audio length: 4 hours 56 minutes)

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, (Young Adult?)

Source: Audiobook version purchased from Audible.com

From the cover:

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

I’d heard a lot about this book in the past, and one of the schools that I was teaching at even used it as required reading for one of its courses. I’ve been meaning to pick up a copy and see what it was about for quite a while, but hadn’t until now. I wanted a shorter book aimed at a younger audience to be a “buffer” between longer, more difficult books, and it definitely provided that.

One of the best features of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, in my opinion, is the fact that it is narrated by a very young boy. So much has been written about the Holocaust and about concentration camps from the perspective of adults – both from the perspective of the oppressors and the victims – but I’ve never heard of anything else being written from the perspective of a child who is too young to really understand what is going on. (Maybe there is and I simply haven’t found it? … if so, link me in the comments, please!) While it was obvious to me from the beginning what was going on, I liked the way that Boyne blanked out or had characters mispronounce key words – something which I assume was done to help the reader understand Bruno’s perspective, since those words are now known by everyone and are highly emotionally charged, but which he would not have known

I’ve seen a bit of criticism of the book that claims that it’s unrealistic, because there’s no way that Bruno could have been that ignorant of what was going on past the fence, or that the physical proximity of the house to the camp was incorrect, or that his friend wouldn’t have been able to get free to visit with him that often. For me, none of these things were a problem. A novel, even one that ties into real historical events, is still fiction. I feel like the author has license to make small changes to bring about a situation that might not be completely accurate but which still tells an interesting story or teaches an important lesson, both of which I think Boyne has done in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I think that, for me, telling a narrative of such emotional impact is far more important than maintaining complete historical accuracy. And really, this book is meant for younger readers, as a springboard to learning more about the world events of our past. It doesn’t have to tell the whole story.

This book is definitely a must-read, particularly for younger readers but also for those of us who are often young-at-heart. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was heartwarming and heartwrenching at the same time, something rarely done as well as this book.

Rating:

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