In the horror of war, it’s the innocence of children that breaks your heart.
I honestly felt the horror of what it is for a child to suffer through every single page of the book, I already knew the ending so I didn’t cry but oh my, this book is a beauty. The novel centres around nine year old Bruno, a normal young boy from Berlin with big dreams of becoming an explorer. All is going well for Bruno apart from his ‘Hopeless Case’ of a sister irritating him until one day he is told he will be moving away from his beloved Berlin. After moving to ‘Out-With’ Bruno is beside himself with no exploring to do, no friend to play with and the only mystery being the odd fence beyond the garden…who are the people beyond the fence. As time goes on there is a lot Bruno does not understand, even more so when he meets Shmuel, the boy on the other side of the fence. Why can’t they play together?
The magic of this novel is that we truly see the Holocaust through a German child’s eyes. Bruno does not understand the things that are going on around him. He does not understand what The Fury is or who the rude man who came to tea was that made them move to Out-With (you guessed it, Hitler himself) . Although at time as an adult reader I could pick out little holes in the plot such as wouldn’t Bruno be enrolled in Hitler youth seeing as his father is a high ranking officer? Wouldn’t he have been brainwasher to some extent into having a hatred for Jews? It is possible that he is simply too young to understand or even that his parents have tried in some ways to keep him out of political matters. On the other hand however we do see Bruno’s sister Gretel who is a few years older getting more and more interested in the war as she gets older, so I cannot hold it against Boyne at all. Despite any flaws I have to admit that the friendship between the boys is rather remarkable and do hold that brutal childhood excitement and honesty. It is obvious that Shmuel is rather anxious and less likely to speak his mind than Bruno, however, there is still the energy of having a childhood friendship between them despite the terrible circumstances they face.
As a novel about the Holocaust I do feel that this is a great novel for children more than for adults. In the novel you do see the effects of war, the treatment of all those who suffered but in a way that doesn’t give children nightmares. I believe that this is the type of novel that should be introduced in schools and then read again in later life, as the novel will go on to touch the hearts of both adults and children alike. I have read novels like this before and although this is fictional it is remarkable just how well Boyne has created this horrific world through the eyes of an innocent boy. What I also found within the novel was realism based on human relationships, there were political disagreements that caused the break-down of a family, lying and cruelty but amongst all this there was the relationship between Bruno and Shmuel. It was interesting that despite their circumstances they could still have a quite normal friendship, they dream together, makes plans and talk about the homes they miss so much. It is the friendship and bond that reinforces the message throughout the book that people are all the same. In the same way other modern classics such as To Kill a Mockingbird, Boyne has magnified the flaws of a specific time period and it’s ideals through the simplicity of a child’s point of view and it works remarkably well. Once you reach the ending (if you don’t know it already) you will understand the bittersweet heartbreak that this novel causes to all who read it.
Overall I give this novel 4 stars ****. I think that it was incredibly well written and gets into the mind-set of a child perfectly making you truly realise the horrors of war. I am only not giving this 5 stars as I felt that the introduction of Shmuel took a little too long in my opinion, that said however I do understand that the novel is for children and gives them the background needed. I would recommend this book to you all. Truly heart-breaking and beautiful.
The Boy in Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
Review by Chloe Metzger