30 Apr Book Review – "The Boy in the Striped Pajamas" by John Boyne
When you look at the cover of the book titled, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, you notice that looks like a jail uniform with medium blue and light blue stripes. The front and back covers of this book do very little to inform you of the story inside the book, but it is clear the story must have something to do with prison or some type of camp. John Boyne's book is not very long, at only 215 pages, and is easy to read. Boyne's writing style can be described as simple and concise, and always leaving you wanting to read more.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a deep story with hints of humor, innocence, and an overwhelming feeling that something is not right. The main character is a nine year old boy named Bruno, who is constantly being harassed and belittled by his twelve year old sister, Gretel. The two children live in a large, five-story house in Berlin with their mother and father, who is a high-ranking official in the German military. Gretel and Bruno both have three best friends whom they see constantly and can not imagine a world without them. However, this all changes one day very quickly when Bruno's father tells everyone that they are moving and may never come back.
The family moves quickly to a small home near a camp which Bruno calls "Out-With". Their new house is only three stories and does not have all of the glamor that the old house in Berlin had. On top of the house being smaller, there is a large dusty, fenced-in area behind the home where there are thin people walking around in striped "pajamas". Bruno wonders how they are so lucky that they get to wear pajamas all day and why the people are fenced in. Bruno does not understand why they are living near this place named Out-With, but he does know that his father is very important in the German military and they must be there for a good reason. His father is so important in fact, that a man with a funny mustache named the "Fury" and his beautiful blonde wife come over for dinner to meet with Bruno's father and his family.
Bruno loves the outdoors and knows that he will be a world-famous explorer when he becomes older. The old house in Berlin provided plenty of area for exploring, both inside and outside the house. Inside, there were various nooks and crannies where Bruno could sneak in when his parents were not looking. Outside, they were near the woods and Bruno could spend all day looking around for something spectacular. However, at Out-With, there was nothing to see. He lived in a boring house with his family and there was only dusty ground outside between his house and the fenced-in area. Therefore, Bruno decided one day to take a walk along the fence. He did not know what he was looking for, but he ended up finding a little boy in pajamas named Shmuel.
Shmuel was also nine years old and happened to share the same birthday as Bruno. Neither one of them had any friends and neither really understood what was going on around them. Shmuel knew that his situation was much worse than Bruno's, and Bruno knew that Shmuel always seemed sad and very skinny, even though he got to wear his pajamas all day long and play with the thousands of children that were inside the fence. The two boys quickly became best friends and Bruno went to see Shmuel every day, rain or shine.
Over time, Bruno would look out his window and see the people in the pajamas being pushed around and yelled at. Still young and innocent, Bruno thought it was just a game and never suspected anything wrong. Shmuel would show up at the fence occasionally with bumps and bruises, and even showed up inside Bruno's house one day. A military official had escorted Shmuel outside the fence one day to polish Bruno's family's glassware. Bruno was so happy to see his friend that he forced some meat at him. The military officer watching Shmuel walked in just at the right time and saw the young boy had been eating, getting him into serious trouble. Bruno did not see Shmuel for several days after this.
When Bruno and Shmuel finally did meet at their usual spot again, Bruno stated how he wished the two boys could play on the same side of the fence. Shmuel agreed, and promised to bring Bruno a pair of pajamas the following day so they could both play on the inside of the fence. In addition, since Bruno is such a good explorer, he promised to help search for Shmuel's father who had been missing for several days. Shmuel had high hopes of finding his father, but chances are good that his father had been executed in the camp.
At this point, it is very clear to the reader that Bruno lives outside of the Nazi Death Camp, Auschwitz. Shmuel is seen as an enemy by the Nazi and his time is running out. His father was probably executed in a gas chamber as many others were in Auschwitz. Bruno does not realize that people are being executed inside the camp and innocently invites himself inside to play with his new best friend. The next day as promised, Shmuel congratulations Bruno a pair of pajamas that were dirty and probably taken from someone who had previously died. Bruno quickly puts them on, climbs under the flimsy fence, and joins his friend. The boys waste no time in starting their exploration and searching for Shmuel's father.
Before they get very far, some Nazi men round up a group of Jewish people, including Shmuel and Bruno who is supposedly to be playing with him, and send the group into a room with a bunch of shower heads coming down from the roof. Everyone seems very nervous and does not know what is going on, but Bruno still doesnt quite realize that he is in grave danger. Suddenly, the lights go out, and the shower noise begins, killing everyone in the room, including Shmuel and Bruno.
Bruno's father, who knows that his family is finding out more about the camp every day and needs to get his kids away from the death camp, realizes that Bruno has not come home one evening as he always does. In fact, he does not come home for several days and everyone becomes very worried. A Nazi soldier finds Bruno's clothes outside the camp's fence one day and tests the fence to find out that it is not holding up. A boy could have easily slid under the fence to entertain his natural curiosity. Bruno's father knows immediately what happened; Bruno was gone and would never be coming back.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a dramatic book that combines real history with fiction. The story of Bruno and his family is combined very well with the story of the Auschwitz Death Camp run by the Nazis and the Fury (Furor), Adolf Hitler. The book has such a good story behind it that it was recently made into a motion picture, which did very well in theaters. Due to the sad history involved in the book combined with a captivating story of drama and innocence, I rate this book a 4 out of 5.