Two boys, a book and a mystery

Auschwitz sculpture

Family sculpture at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Image courtesy of western4uk, Morguefile.

As someone who likes history — especially World War II — I’ve read quite a few books about the Holocaust. John Boyne’s book, The Boy In The Striped Pajamas, took a different approach and I liked it for that reason.

In a way, the book is a mystery and you have to piece it together yourself.  This book is told from the viewpoint of a young, sheltered German boy, Bruno, uprooted from his comfortable home in Berlin as the result of his father’s promotion by someone called the Fury. The Fury comes to dinner one night with his friend Eva.

Bruno’s family goes to live in a new home far away and Bruno doesn’t like his new home “Out-With” very much. He gets bored with no place to go and no kids to play with except for his exasperating older sister. Bruno’s new home is next to a big fence and he sees some people off in the distance wearing what he thinks are striped pajamas. For something to do, Bruno decides to go exploring one day and meets a young boy his own age, Shmuel, who stays behind the fence. The two boys talk and over the course of time, become friends.

Boyne gives you various clues about where all of this is happening and who people are, but it took me a while to catch on. Shmuel mentions that they are in Poland. Then I figured out which concentration camp “Out-With” represented (it rhymes with the photo caption above). And once the Fury’s appearance was described, I understood who he was, too.

You have to really know World War II Holocaust history to get the book and to understand what happens to Bruno. Shmuel doesn’t really let Bruno know much of what’s going on and Bruno is too naive and too young, perhaps, to comprehend it all.

The book seems simple, but it’s a masterful juxtaposition of innocence and sadness. I recommend it for anyone who is interested in World War II history.



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29 responses to “Two boys, a book and a mystery

  1. Reblogged this on EditorEtc LLC and commented:
    My cup of tea too…

  2. Great review, I loved both the book and have also seen the film, I would recommend the film, although of course, it is nowhere near as good as the book!

  3. Isn’t there a movie companion to the book, too? ~ Kat

  4. I’ve never read the book, but I thought the movie heartbreaking! If the book is better than the film — as most books worthy of the cinema tend to be — then I fear I would stain the pages.
    Also nice to know someone else who is interested in WWII history. Though there is much importance in the actual war and the devastation it wrought on not only soldiers, but innocent people who were subject to the genocidal whims of a prejudiced dictator (The Fury), I have a deep interest in the pre-war (or what is commonly called the Interwar) period.
    The Rhur, French Appeasement, the outright defiance of the Treaty of Paris (also an interesting topic in geopolitical terms), and Hitler’s rise to prominence and dictatorship: these provide a unique view into how Germany — a country wracked with explosive inflation, half-occupied by the WWI victors, and internationally forbidden to get anywhere near enough power to promulgate such a global event — managed to hopelessly lose one global war, and then start another in only 2 decades.
    I plan on visiting my local library soon, and hope they have a copy of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.”

  5. Sounds like an intriguing way to tell a very familiar and sad and devastating story.

  6. You’re so right when you say it is a “masterful juxtaposition of innocence and sadness.” I’ve at times struggled to explain the impact of such a seemingly simple story, but your review does it well.

    • Thanks! I think it has more impact the way it is because it’s told through the eyes of an innocent young boy.

      The blurb on the back was interesting too. It ended with something like, “We hope you never meet a fence like this” or words to that effect.

  7. Did you read Sarah’s Key? I had problems with some of it, but the look inside the concentration camp was well told.

  8. Howdy:

    I haven’t read the book, but I did see the movie. It was very interesting and innocent during a period of enormous fearfulness in Poland. The end is totally unexpected and left me with a sense of guilt over what happened there.

    It was an excellent motion picture. I must assume the book should be even better.



    • I’d like to see the movie to see if it lives up to the excellence of the book. I’ve seen bits of it on YouTube, so I think maybe I might find the entire movie there. *crosses fingers for luck*

  9. Great review. I know a few people who might like it. Thanks!

  10. I knew a bit about the book going in, so I found it easier to understand. I struggled with truly liking the book though. For one, it felt like Boyne didn’t really have a clear audience. It’s written on an almost child-like level, although that’s clearly not his target audience. Secondly, I had difficulty suspending disbelief enough for my heart to really become involved in the story. I think it provides an interesting viewpoint and definitely explores very real emotions, but in the end I found myself wishing it had been better executed.

  11. I am interested in WWII history since my mother grew up in Germany during the war. When she was finally able to distance herself from that part of her life, we worked on her memoirs. There are so many layers to what happened, especially as a child experiencing the war it is possible that Bruno could have been protected, yet I doubt I will ever be able to read the book having read and listened to mother’s experiences. Good review and great insights. Have you ever read or watched The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom?

  12. Just added your blog to my blog roll.

  13. This book sounds fascinating, and I will put it on my list for future gift giving. I know just the person that would enjoy reading this.

  14. I have read much history and biography associated with WWII. Focused on the period (twentieth century) in my recently completed History MA.

    Your book sounds interesting, however, I am reminded of a comment I read recently, “Why would anyone read The Hunger Games, when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is at hand. Just a thought. Dianne


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