Friday, January 22, 2010

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

1940s, Berlin. World War 2 is raging around Nazi Germany, yet Bruno, 8 years old, sees nothing wrong with it. His parents, especially his father, an important officer who knows Hitler personally, speak very fondly of the war and Germany’s strength. When his father is transferred to a strange place near a large village enclosed by barbed wire , Out-With’s (Auschwitz), Bruno is not too pleased. His luxurious Berlin mansion has been replaced by a smaller sized house. He no longer sees his friends, and his sister seems even meaner than before.

One morning, he decides to go exploring. One of Bruno’s favored activities is to pretend he is a renown explorer, discovering new places. He starts with the garden, then, against his father’s recommendations, continues toward the wire fence. He follows it for some time, seeing no one on its grey, dull grounds. Then, he meets Schmuel, a scrawny, skeleton-like boy on the other side of the fence.

I found the beginning of the book rather slow paced, and it took me some time before getting hooked. Luckily, this period was rather short and once I got into it, I couldn’t set the novel down. I finished it the same evening.

This has to be one of the best, most adorable, yet one of the saddest books I have ever read. The friendship between Bruno and Schmuel is typical of children that age: their friendship isn’t unconditional, and more than once, Bruno selfishly eats the food he had brought for his (starving) friend on the other side of the metal fence. Bruno seems his age: he doesn’t see what is happening on Schmuel’s side of the fence, he idolizes his father, he mocks his older sister. He doesn’t understand the war, and doesn’t understand why his friend was brought to such a dull place on the other side of the fence. Often, his childish, yet insightful remarks made me reflect on the horrible war that devastated Europe, and the legitimacy of the motives behind it.

Bruno’s character, even if he is very wealthy, isn’t the stereotypical rich-kid papa’s boy Nazi youth soldier. In fact, he has no idea about what is going on in his country, or what his father does, or why some people are behind the fence. Schmuel, even if he is as young as Bruno, has lived so much more, and his cautious, saddened nature is very different from his friend’s attitude. The two, even if contrasting, have a unique friendship. As Bruno brings food to his hungered friend, sometimes eating pieces along the way, he discovers he no longer remembers his Berlin friend’s names. Now, his only friend is a boy he shouldn’t even have met in the first place.

Adorable characters in such a ruthless setting, the powerful tale of friendship and the sad, sad, sad ending made this book marvellous. Finally a war story not centered on the war itself, fleeing the war, death of close people! I simply fell in love with it. Bruno and Schmuel will always have a special place in my heart.

Finally, the title is related to the fact that everyone, on the other side of the barbed wire, seems to wear the same clothing: grey and white striped pyjamas.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is a very touching book about friendship and misunderstandings. By the end of the book, I was bawling my eyeballs out. And I’m not even an overly sensitive person.

The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Rating : 9/10

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