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[173] The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne

pajamas“Ah those people. Those people…well, they’re not people at all, Bruno. But you shouldn’t be worrying about them right now. They’re nothing to do with you. You have nothing whatsoever in common with them…Accept the situation in which you find yourself and everything will be so much easier.” [53]

“What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?” [100]

Bruno’s childish instinct is right: there is absolutely nothing to be happy about the house his family has moved into. Unlike the mansion in Berlin, this house stands all on its own in an empty, desolate place that overlooks low huts and square buildings bound by high fence that tangles in spirals at the top. The nine-year-old quickly dismisses the possibility of a farm in the countryside, and that they are not living in a holiday home. To escape his bossy sister and the gloomy house orbited by soldiers working for his father, to console his loneliness, the boy decides to explore the world on the other side of the fence on his own.

As Bruno watches the hundreds of people in the distance going about their business, it strikes him that all of them, scrawny, fallow, and pale, are wearing the same clothes that Pavel, who waits on the family at dinner table, is wearing: grey striped pajamas. As it turns out, all that he expects of the other side—the promise of children to play with, grown-ups sitting on rocking chairs, vegetables and fruit stalls like those in Berlin—aren’t there. He has never seen sadder people than they, who stare at the ground blankly and plaintively. One day he walks farther down along the fence that his house has petered out, he notices a spot:

“And then, Bruno got even closer, he saw that the thing was neither a dot nor a speck nor a blob nor a figure, but a person. In fact it was a boy.” [105]

So is the fateful meeting of Bruno with Shmuel. The son of Out-With’s (Auschwitz) commandant and a Jewish inmate. They share the same birthday but their lives are worlds apart. As the boys scrape a friendship and continue to meet daily in the camp’s outskirt, where Bruno feeds his friend food he smuggles out of the house, the question of Bruno’s innocence and cluelessness reverberates in my mind.

Bruno’s innocence is juxtaposed with the extreme evil in the subject of the Holocaust (which is not directly addressed although the signs are clear). In fact, the celebration party held for his father’s promotion is strongly evident of such juxtaposition, ensuing the bane of the inmates. Told from the perspective of a nine-year-old, who doesn’t have a hint of his father’s job (except that it ensures the betterment of the country), let alone the happenings behind the concentration camps, it’s unfair to accuse his being complacent. Like a kid would normally do, he sees things as they are, who couldn’t understand the terrible things that happen around him. That he doesn’t view these events in a position of a hindsight, along with his incomprehension, makes this novel one of misunderstandings and misconceptions. While he might be as complacent as everybody else was at the time, his moral struggle later that brings on a twist to the end is satirical of those who are within capability to interfere with the atrocities the has recurred in history. [Read/Toss/Skim]

22 Responses

  1. OK, I need to get this book!! Thanks for the great review, Matt!

  2. this looks like a good story. It’s also been recently adapted into a movie

  3. I’ve been waiting to read this book for quite some time now. Your review, though, made me want to go out and buy it immediately. (Also, I’m loving the review system.)

  4. I loved this book. Bruno is so innocent. The ending was powerful.

  5. I’m definitely going to read this one. Thanks for the review!

  6. […] [173] The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne […]

  7. I saw the movie. so I’m wondering if the book will be kind of anticlimactic. …must ruminate on this issue for awhile…

  8. Braveo, Matt! This is an excellent review. Thank you for your insight in this little story of two boys’ friendship. Small tale but big scope. 🙂

  9. Melody:
    It’s shelved under young adult fiction here in the US, but I’m not sure if this is appropriate for young adults. The book requires parental guidance. 🙂

  10. zawan:
    The movie is very disturbing.

  11. Jessica:
    This is a quick read but very substanced. 🙂

  12. Isabel:
    The ending is overwhelming, powerful, and disturbing.

  13. diaryofaneccentric:
    I hope you’ll enjoy the book.

  14. chartroose:
    The movie skips a bit of the important nuances that are crucial in connecting sections of the book. You should read it.

  15. John:
    Read the book then go see the film. 🙂

  16. we are reading this book in my english class. so far it is a very good book. my friend told me i am going to cry at the ending of the book. i really want to see the movie, but im going to finish the book 1st

  17. […] Matt at A Guy’s Moleskine Notebook […]

  18. the kids die in the end both of em

  19. i love this book im readin and jason dont be such a spoil sport

  20. […] Tiger, Booker Prize? (12369) [173] The Boy in the Striped Pajamas – John Boyne (2313) [92] A Separate Peace – John Knowles (2292) SF GLBT Film Festival: Solos (1945) Mama […]

  21. […] titles include A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John […]

  22. […] because I hardly read YA books. The ones (YA) I did read just happen to be of serious disposition. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is told from the perspective of a nine-year-old, who doesn’t have a hint of his […]

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