The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas is a novel by Irish author, John Boynea. The story is about a 9-year-old German boy, Bruno, whose father becomes a very important man within the Nazi party. The boy’s father is transferred to be in command of the Auschwitz concentration camp and takes his family with him. Out of loneliness and curiosity, Bruno goes exploring and discovers a boy who is the same age as him on the other side of the fence. The boys find that they have quite a bit in common and after talking for many weeks or months they become very close friends.
The novel highlights the fact that this 9-year-old boy is very sheltered and relatively ignorant to what is going on in the world around him. All the boy knows is that he had to leave his best friends in Berlin to come to this horrible place where he has no friends except for this one boy who lives on the other side of the fence. While he has been told that Germans are superior over others, he really doesn’t know why he was told that or what implication that statement has on other people’s lives.
My main complaint is that the voice of this young man seems to be somewhat inconsistent with his actual age. At first, before I knew what his actual age was, I thought that the boy was perhaps 5 or 6 because he seemed to understand very little. And, the older sister, although she was 12-years-old, was expressing behaviors that were at times consistent with an 8-year-old while at other times seemed to belong to those of a 16-year-old. I guess you could argue that if someone is so entirely sheltered that they might have the ignorance of someone 5 years younger, but all the same, the inconsistencies bothered me.
I listened to the book, which was narrated very nicely, and at the end I was able to listen to an interview with the author. It seemed to me that the author was responding defensively to arguments that he shouldn’t have written the story in the way that he had and that he shouldn’t have made up such story plots that seemed fairly improbable. His response was that the book was written as a “fable” and not meant to be 100% historically accurate. He declared that if you were focusing on the minute details that you were missing the point, which he stated was about the fact that for the most part people are complacent to the wrong going on around us. I say, that if that was the point, then it wasn’t driven home in a successful way. Instead, I saw the story as an unfortunate story that happened to a boy who was so ignorant and unlucky that he didn’t have a chance of survival.
In the end of the story, the father experiences remorse for his actions over the past years, and his mother and the boy’s sister simply feel sad about the whole thing. In the film version (found on Netflix), the mother expresses her sadness in a deep way but the filmmaker chooses not to show the father’s remorse. While there were major issues and plot holes that I found with the book, I liked the movie, which stars the young boy who will play Ender in the up-and-coming movie, Ender’s Game, even less. In the film, the complexities of the relationships were, for the most part, left out and, for me, this takes away some of the meaning from the story.
The author stated that he was proud to hear that some people, especially survivors or the ancestors of survivors, would read this book to children in order to explain what went on during the Holocaust. But, I say, that if I want my kids to learn about the Holocaust that there are other ways that are much more truthful and accurate to what actually went down in Auschwitz. While the book was short, I don’t feel that it is appropriate for kids, not because of the horror in the book (which isn’t really flushed out) but because the book doesn’t really accomplish what it sets out to do.
All in all, I didn’t like the book too much but am not mad that I spent the time reading it because it only took 4 hours out of my life to get through. The movie was okay but not great. If you are trying to figure out what to do with your Friday night at home, skip The Boy In the Striped Pajamas and instead watch Arrested Development or Orange Is the New Black.