Book Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne
Today I am pleased to be sharing with you my review of a book that has, quite frankly, been long overdue on the TBR pile. Whether others have seen the film or read the book, I feel very behind everyone else in catching up with this extraordinary tale.
Goodreads – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
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.
I was gobsmacked to find this in the Children’s section of my library.
Were it not for knowing the subject matter, I wouldn’t have questioned it, but yeah. I was astounded, and perhaps a little ashamed that I hadn’t read it sooner. Who, in one breath, can proclaim to be a great lover of historical fiction… and in the next say that they haven’t read what is probably one of the most iconic works of that genre? Well, up until last month, that was me.
I cannot beg ignorance when it comes to the topic of the book, however. The Second World War is one of the prominent topics in the history lessons of my school days; in fact I highly doubt there is any British child that has never heard of the Holocaust. What makes The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas unique from the history lessons is that we “experience” the time through the eyes of an innocent, naïve child.
I’ve read a number of reviews criticising the book for a lack of historical accuracy and a lack of understanding about why Bruno would not recognise “The Fury” for who he is. Whilst I scoffed at the idea that this book was for children, in hindsight, it is more appropriate than I first considered. I think it is important to remember that this was probably written as an introduction to the topic, rather than an accurate account.
One of my favourite things about the book was that whilst suggestions were made about the atrocities we know happened at Auschwitz and other such camps, true understanding relies on better knowledge of the history. As this will come from either parents to children, or via school, the extent of understanding can be moderated for the age of the audience.
The book is also skilfully written, and it goes to show that books can be narrated from a juvenile perspective whilst not losing the quality of the narrative. Bruno’s sheltered lifestyle, his love of exploring and a desire to make friends make this young child a lovable character, despite some slight petulant behaviour.
This book was a quick read for me; in fact, I devoured it in two evenings. I also expected I would cry, but mercifully I didn’t. I had a vague idea about how the story would end, having watched about the first 40 minutes of the film in a history lesson once, so perhaps that steeled me against the ending of the book.
That’s not to say I would go on to watch the film, however. It is one thing to know of such atrocities and quite another to watch it play out in front of you, real or not.