December 8, 2009
Rabid Reads: "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" by John Boyne
Title: The Boy in the Striped
Author: F. Paul Wilson
Published: Tor (2nd edition, 2008); first published 1981
ISBN -10: 0-7653-6136-1
The plot summary on the inside of the book jacket intentionally refrains from giving a clear notion of what this book is about. It simply tells us that it's a story about a nine year old boy, but it's not meant for nine year old boys. Ooh, heavy. Well, that might have worked on me if it weren't for the buzz about this story and the film adaptation that came out this year. I haven't even seen a full trailer for the movie yet, and I knew full well what this book's subject matter entailed, long before I decided to pick it up at the library and read it. And now that I've read it, I'm not so sure a nine year old couldn't handle this book. They may not grasp it and the immeasurable history behind the time and setting it's in, but nine year olds aren't infantile. They can dig heady stuff on occasion.
And believe me, despite the style of writing that presents the story from a nine year old's view of the world, this book is a heady read for all.
It's a story about a German boy named Bruno. His father is a soldier, recently promoted to Commandant. Because of the promotion, the entire family is moving hastily somewhere else. Bruno's world is Berlin, so no matter how near or fat outside the city they are moving, it may as well be the other side of the planet, as he's leaving behind all he loves and holds dear outside his immediate family.
They've moved to Out-With--get ready to find those mispronunciations either charming or chafing--and Bruno discovers that their new home is neither temporary nor satisfactory. There are no shops, no playgrounds, and no children. Well, there is a boy he meets a while after trying to settle in. A boy who wears ugly striped pajamas and lives on the other side of a fence.
While the narrative is intentionally childish in tone, there is an utter absence of subtlety. This book is a brick to the head with its message--they've moved to Auschwitz, in case you didn't recognize the mispronunciation.
This book is mercifully short, as I would have probably quit reading had it gone on longer. Bruno is not exactly a likable character to me. He's petulant to a degree that almost seems farcical at times. However, there are moments of vulnerability when he seems very real and briefly sympathetic. I would be interested to see how a kid would interpret the story, sharing a somewhat similar disposition and ignorance of world history. The reaction would be far different from an adult, I'd wager.
You understand a sense of tragedy to the whole tale, even if Bruno doesn't, but when it happens you're thrown even further than you might have expected. I think the book is worth a read, if for nothing else, because the ending of the story is an unapologetic punch to the stomach.