When the movie adaptation of this book released on DVD, I quickly rented it. At the time, I wasn’t aware of its literary origins. The film moved me so completely that it stuck in my mind. When it began playing on one of the movie channels, I recorded it on the DVR and recently convinced my Mom to watch it with me. She felt its power, just as I did.
After viewing the movie again, I really wanted to get into the mind of Bruno, the main character. It is for that reason I bought the book.
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 from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see 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 to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
John Boyne wrote a beautiful and horrific story. It is written from the point of view of nine-year-old Bruno, a naive son of a Nazi Commandant during WWII. His father is given an assignment that necessitates the family’s move to the country, away from Berlin where Bruno has spent his whole life.
At first, Bruno is disenchanted with this new life; but when he begins to explore the region his parents forbade him to enter, he discovers another boy, Shmuel. They become friends despite the fence that separates them. Soon, Berlin becomes a distant memory.
I can’t tell you more than that, because it would give away the ending. However, I do recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII and the Holocaust. It is a very moving story.
That being said, a few minor things annoyed me. For instance, the repetitive use of certain phrases: “[T]he little room at the top of the house with the slanted windows where Bruno could see right across Berlin if he stood up on his tiptoes and held on to the frame tightly.” Bruno uses this description during his perusal of the house he’s being forced to leave. When he remembers his former home he uses the same description, verbatim. The same is true for his father’s office. The initial description is repeated exactly as it was used the first time.
Bruno’s naivete is what makes the book so special, but it also lessens the overall impact of what happens. He doesn’t realize he’s moved to Poland, he just knows he’s far from Berlin; Shmuel informs him of where he is. He never understands why his friend is on the other side of the fence and is jealous of the fact that there are so many other children there and none on his side.
He calls his new home Out-With, unable to accurately pronounce its name. We, as readers with awareness of history, understand where he is. We also understand the significance of the fence and the atrocities that occurred within its confines.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne is a compelling story; one that has earned a place on my bookshelf, even if I never read it again. I also plan to buy the movie. I believe it packs more of an emotional punch because we don’t view it through Bruno’s naive eyes, but as an outsider witnessing the whole story.