Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Review: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

This book was seriously one of the saddest I have ever read. The ending is truely heart-breaking and shows that John Boyne is a literary genius. The book has 224 pages and was published by Random House.

The book is set in 1942's Berlin. The main character is Bruno, a little eight-year old boy. When he comes home from school one day he is told he and his family will move to a place called 'Out-With', which turns out to be Auschwitz. When they get there he has a hard time getting settled and misses his grand-parents and friends, who they left behind in Berlin. There are no other kids and the house doesn't give enough opportunities of exploration.
One day he looks out of the window and sees lots of people in stripped pyjamas and he asks his sister who they are. She doesn't know, but according to his father, who is now Kommandant, they aren't real people, only Jews. Bruno and his sister, Gretel, are taught by a tutor, who tries to change them into hardcore Nazis. Gretel is open to this, but Bruno isn't really interested.

There is a lieutenant in the house, called Kothler. He is very violent towards the Jewish servant in the house, Pavel. Pavel helps Bruno when he hirts his knee. There is a really sweet, but tragic moment when Bruno asks him whether he needs to go see a doctor for his knee and Pavel tells him that he is a doctor.

Although his father forbids him to go out exploring the grounds Bruno does exactly that. While on one of his exploring walks he sees a fence and a boy his age on the other side. This is Shmuel, who has been taken from his parents and is forced to work in the camp. Bruno doesn't know anything about what is happening in the camp and you get the idea that Shmuel is less ignorant of what is happening. They meet every day at the same spot and become best friends.

In the end Bruno has to return to Berlin with his mother and sister, but he decides, as a last adventure, to dress up in striped pyjamas and help Shmuel find his father. He slips underneath the fence, but once in the camp it starts raining and he wants to go back, but they are caught up in a big crowd that is marching towards a big building. It ends with Shmuel and Bruno holding hands, wondering what is happening.

I won't tell what happens in the epilogue, but I guess we can all make a guess.
This story is terribly sad and caused quite some controversy when it was published. Some claimed he was writing something outrageous by suggesting there were such little kids in a concentration camp, but he had prove that there were. A Rabbi complained that he suggested that some German people didn't know about the extermination of the Jews.

This book has really touched me, as has the movie. Sometimes you are disappointed by a movie, because the book was simply amazing. This movie however captured the intense feeling the book brought to me. This was one of the few books that really made me cry. I also want to talk about the movie, because maybe more people have seen it.

The movie makes some changes, especially to the last scene. It skips the epilogue and also shows you his parents reaction when they find out what happened to their son. It is an incredible performance by David Thewlis, who plays Bruno's dad. Somehow I couldn't hate him for what he did to the Jews, I just felt really sorry for him. I did hate Lieutenant Kothler however. When he kicked Pavel I just wanted to kill him.

It seems as if Boyne had some problems at the beginning writing as a child, but he got into it later and gives you a great insight into the child.  There is a real paradox in the friendship between Bruno and Shmuel. Bruno has everything, but seems to know nothing, while Shmuel will probably die the first and knows it. Although it is a book written through a child, I do not think it is a children's book. Like St. Exupery's The Little Prince it will speak to adults as well. And the book raises questions about the second World War that a child maybe cannot understand.

I give this book ...

4 Universes!

Have you read the book or seen the movie? What are your thoughts?


  1. This book just seems way too sad for me. What a horrible, terrible time for children who had to live during those times.

  2. I recently read The Book Thief which is of a similar subject matter. It really moved me. Having read your review I think I will go and get a copy of this too!

  3. I thought this book was incredible too. I thought the child's perspective was very convincing and moving.

  4. This is one of my favorite book. I just cant help crying when I was in the last page.
    The emotion were even still remain for few days

    Those Out-With words was tricked me.

    I like your review