Review: The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

A quick read, this book takes us back to one of the darkest times of human history. I wholly enjoyed this book, but it seems to be a hit and miss with each individual reader. Still I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys a bit of historical fiction.

This story is about a prominent Nazi family who is forced to relocate near a concentration camp. “Out-with,” as Bruno pronounces it, is an isolated house, a small one at that, with nothing familiar and no one for him to play with. As the story progresses, Bruno seems to discover more and more about himself, his family, and his situation. BUT he never figures out the horrible truth that awaits him behind the people in striped pyjamas.

In this new place, Bruno becomes friends with one of the prisoners at the camp; a  boy with the same age, the same birthday. But that’s where the similarities end. While Bruno is well fed and healthy, Shmuel is thin. While Bruno lives with his family in a nice house, the other boy is alone and “lives” in a hut. Shumel seems to better understand the circumstances of his life quite a bit better (than Bruno), but again, he never really figures out the full truth.

I think Bruno’s vulnerability represents a small population in Germany during that time period, who did not necessarily believe in Nazi beliefs. They can ignore it, and they can prevent themselves from accepting the truth, but they cannot stop it. Bruno’s grandmother is the more solid representation of this. She is very outspoken about her feelings and opinions about the Nazi and their doings.

Despite what many are saying about it, I do not at all believe that the naivety and innocence of our main character takes away the horror of the Holocaust. If anything, it makes it much more terrifying. Though I can definitely see what makes people believe so. Bruno is supposed to be nine years old, and his sister twelve. I’ve been around kids those age and I can tell you that they are not so clueless as the author made them seem. Also, with Bruno bent on pronouncing Auschwitz as “Out-with,” and Der Führer as “The Fury,” it does seem a tad unrealistic. I think there were better ways to keep the ambiguity of the details. (Like not referencing the terms at all.) Also, the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel seems like a very unlikely friendship. How could no one have found out? Not a single prisoner, Nazi guard, or staff from Bruno’s house noticed!

Other than that, the author’s writing was easy to read. It was interesting to experience the Holocaust through the eyes and mind of Bruno. The story itself was short and bittersweet; I finished it about to one and a half hours. Again not for everybody, but it was a nice short story for me.


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