Review: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

23 01 2008

Why did I wait so long to read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas?

I found the book over a year ago our children’s book store. I was immediately drawn to it, but chose not to buy it as it was the hard cover version and I think I was going through one of those “I-can’t-buy-another-book- I’ve-bought-far-too-many-already” phase – those phases that come about once every six months and end up depriving me (as in this case) of a fantastic book.

I finally purchased this novel last week and I read most yesterday – which sitting waiting for the dentist – and then finished off the final section today.

It is a book though that really should be read in one sitting. I think it would be even more powerful that way, and it certainly is quite possible to make it through Boyne’s novel in a couple of hours.

The story is told through the perspective of nine-year-old boy named Bruno. His father is made Commandant of Auschwitz (which Bruno pronounces as “Out-With” throughout) and the story follows Bruno as he discovers a fence and a boy named Shmuel who lives on the other side of the fence.

The story is told quite simply and directly, as The Book Thief was, and it shares another similarity in the child narrator. There is such innocence and naivety about the novel because it is all seen from Bruno’s perspective. Boyne makes a conscious choice to use language itself as a way of revealing Bruno’s innocence, using “Out-With” in place of Auschwitz and “Fury” in place of Fuhrer, and those words create an effective tension between Bruno and the knowledge or context readers bring to the novel.

I don’t want to give too much away, but before I finish I want to include a short passage from the “Author’s Note.” For my graduate work, I worked with theories of witnessing and much of my work was focused on observers, on characters who were distanced from a particular trauma (what I worked with was WWI), but who became consumed by a desire to know everything they could about that trauma. I think that is why this particular passage from Boyne’s “Author’s Note” stood out to me:

“Throughout the writing and rewriting of the novel, I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naive child who couldn’t possibly understand that terrible things that were taking place around him. After all, only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all” (217-218).

I can think of no better image for where I and many other readers dwell: “on the other side of the fence.” We cannot ever “know,” and yet we must be aware, and that to me is why books like this are so important.

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One response

12 06 2008
Josette

So now I understand why Boyne had purposedly made Bruno’s character so downright naive! I was quite irritated when Bruno did not empathise when Shmuel was telling him that it was not all that nice in the camp. All Bruno thought was that Shmuel had more friends to play with!

I’m glad I bought this book and read it. Wish I had read it sooner! It’s such a great book! Everyone who is mature enough should read it though.

Here is my review of the book! =D

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