When I asked a friend’s 10-year-old son what his favourite book was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was his answer. He kindly lent it to me and I read it in one sitting. This book, despite being touted as a children’s book can be read by adults as well. Boyne’s ability to pitch his narrative so it touches both children and adults is outstanding.
We meet Bruno – a nine-year old boy (although he hates being referred to by his age) – who lives with his mother and father and sister in Berlin. His father is clearly part of the Nazi movement as there are numerous references initially to the “Fury” (i.e. the Fuhrer) having great things is store for him. Without notice, Bruno and his family move to “Out-With” (i.e. Auschwitz) and live beside an internment camp. Bruno is deeply displaced by this move and on noticing the camp from the view outside his bedroom window he felt “very cold and unsafe“. On an adventure out exploring the neighbourhood he meets a young boy Shmuel who lives on the other side of the fence (i.e. in the camp) and they become fierce friends. The ending to this friendship and this book made me cry for a good half hour.
Boyne choses to narrate his story from the perspective of this nine-year old boy and in doing so, we feel all the injustices Bruno feels from being told off and interrupted by his parents (when it was absolutely not OK to do the other way around) to feeling displaced and nervous around the soldiers in the house. Throughout this entire book, the reader can feel Bruno’s anxiety and as an adult reader you empathise with the innocence this little boy has in such a horrific place.
The descriptions of the squalid living conditions, the malnutrition and the fear – the utter fear – are vividly evocative. For children, I can imagine most of this would go beyond them however, for adults you cannot escape the emotive way that Boyne recounts the decline of the society beyond the fence.
I loved this book and felt aggrieved at returning it – one to buy and to gift to both adults and children.
Recommended for: those who enjoy an emotional book
Favourite quote: “Bruno found that he was still holding Shmuel’s hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go.”
Thanks for reading – I hope you enjoyed it!