I move on to another short novel, which I read in the same day as The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Due to the film’s highly publicised release, I’m sure we are all aware of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. This novel is one which deals with the horror of the Holocaust, through the eyes of a nine year-old boy named Bruno.
To be honest, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I went to read this book, as I was broadly aware of the subject matter it dealt with and how it was written from the viewpoint of a child. What I was not expecting however, was the child to be the son of a Nazi working at Auschwitz, giving the novel a whole new level of innocence.
9 year-old Bruno is the son of a wealthy family living in Berlin, Germany, and consisting of him, his sister, his mother, father and 3 maids. When Bruno’s family are forced from his grand 3-story (5 if you include basement and attic quarters, according to Bruno) home due to his father’s job, Bruno’s main concern is how much he will miss his ‘three best friends for life’.
He does not want to move to “Out-With”, especially as there is nobody to play with except for his older sister, who is a ‘Hopeless Case’. It is when Bruno discovers out his window that there appears to be a whole city of people on the other side of the fence that his life changes, and they’re all wearing striped pyjamas.
Bored of sitting at home alone, Bruno goes ‘exploring’ and ends up walking for an hour down the fence, where he encounters a boy called Shmuel, who was born on the same day as him. The boys develop a secret friendship, with them even declaring to be twins when Bruno’s head is shaved after his mother discovers head lice. The one thing Bruno never manages to grasp is why his family and the people on the other side of the fence are segregated, believing he is the one being punished as he is not allowed to go and play with the other children. The only thing Shmuel is able to tell him is that they are ‘different’, and that Jews like him at ‘Out-With’ cannot be around Bruno’s family who are associated with ‘The Fury’. It is then that Bruno makes the decision that this is not right and attempts to have just one day where he can play with Shmuel, on one side of the fence….
Boyne’s novel is particularly striking due to the naive innocence of nine year-old Bruno, shown through his mispronunciation of certain words, and the inability to grasp the situation of the Holocaust (not even knowing what his father’s job is).
What the author has succeeded in doing here is telling a story through the eyes of ‘the opposition’ as it were, allowing the innocence of children to highlight the fact that humanity are united even in their differences.
I will admit that I expected this novel to be a lot longer and emotionally touching than I found it to be, but all in all it was an excellent read which shows how the simple concepts of children can be the most profound. I am now going to be searching out the film, as I’ve yet to see it.