“When he closed his eyes, everything around him just felt empty and cold, as if he was in the loneliest place in the world. The middle of nowhere.”John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Title: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Author: John Boyne
Genres: Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Classics
Pages: 216 (10th Anniversary Paperback)
Published: January 5th, 2006
My Rating: ★★★ ¾
Read: 8/3/2022 – 8/6/2022
Given how much WWII fiction I read, I’m surprised how long I procrastinated this one. Until joining a buddy read, I wasn’t aware of the more problematic themes, so I went into this with some skepticism.
There are definitely major issues with the book, most of them surrounding Bruno’s obliviousness and lack of empathy. What was more infuriating was the lack of correction from his family and even Schmuel. The son of a Nazi Commandant would not be in the dark about his father’s role in the Holocaust — at the minimum, the Nazis’ war against Jewish people — especially living next door to Auschwitz. The Nazi mentality started young. Hitler formed Hitler’s youth for a terrible reason. The fact Hilter himself shows up in the story says how involved Bruno’s father was. There is no way he would be so naive at the age of nine about what was happening. Not in this setting.
What was more annoying how Bruno’s refusal to accept what little correction he did receive. I’m not fluent in German, but ‘Out-With’ translated to German would be something along the lines of ‘Aus-Mit’. ‘Fury’ would be ‘Zorn’. They aren’t fitting with the language that the characters would be speaking. It was errors like this I found distracting and frustrating.
The point of view in which the book is told is where my stars come from. Though Bruno would have realistically known more, I believe he might have had questions about the way the Jewish people were being treated. This would have made a much more powerful story. That’s not to say there was no impact with the friendship Bruno and Schmuel do share. At its core, it’s a story about two lonely young kids finding an unlikely best friend. There is a level of innocence here that can’t be denied.
Another praise is the writing. It flowed fantastically. It’s just too bad that it wasn’t a little bit longer and more in-depth. There was a lot of potential for more even if it is geared toward a younger audience. I see why it’s received so much praise since its publication, but it is good to keep some of the issues in mind when reading. This is not an accurate portrayal of the cruelties the Nazis were capable of despite the ultimate sadness of the book. Without previous knowledge of this time, it could leave an uninformed impression, particularly on younger readers.
Likes & Dislikes:
What I liked:
- Bruno and Schmuel’s friendship. It was incredibly sweet.
- The story being told from a child’s perspective.
- The writing. Simple yet impactful.
What I didn’t like:
- There were so many inaccuracies it was ridiculous. From Bruno being blissfully unaware of what was going on with Auschwitz to young and weak Schmuel having survived so long in the death camp (as well as some bigger gaffs that I can’t discuss without marking for spoilers).
- Bruno read more like a six-year-old rather than a nine-year-old. Yes, I do like the narration from a child’s perspective, but the age should have been better matched to his voice.
- How fast-paced the story is. There wasn’t any time to connect to the story or characters with everything being glossed over.
- Bruno’s character in general. I found him selfish and apathetic. Nine-year-olds do have the capacity to pick up on their surroundings. The part in particular that got to me was mentions of him eating food he was bringing to Schmuel on the way to visit him. Clearly, he would have been able to see that his friend has been starving compared to Bruno being ‘peckish’ during a walk.
- Scattered continuity errors.
While I’m glad I finally got around to reading this (and even happier to have read it as a buddy read so I could discuss it), it turned out to be not at all what I expected. The inaccuracies were not only disappointing, but discouraging. A lot of what was wrong was a matter of simple and accessible research. As I’ve already said, someone, especially a young person, who reads this with little to no knowledge about the Holocaust is at risk for a false impression. I don’t know if I’d go as far as to say there is a sympathetic tone toward the Nazis, because ultimately it narrows down to being sympathetic to an ignorant young boy, but it does minimize their acts through Bruno’s denial.