Literature / Personal Opinion

REVIEW: John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Synopsis (taken from Goodreads.com):

Berlin, 1942 : When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Parts of this story frustrated me – mainly the constant naivety of Bruno as well as his apparent “Englishness” as opposed to his supposed German identity (depicted through his inability to comprehend basic German language at the age of 9). Perhaps children today are a little more worldly-wise, but these factors irritated me nonetheless.

Having said this, I enjoyed some kind of insight into the mind of a child from a ‘Nazi point of view’ – a child who is a victim through no fault of his own, despite not being a ‘conventionally-Jewish’ victim. Having experienced an emotional read in the form of Anne Frank’s diary and other Jewish narratives, the thought has never really entered my mind as to what the children on the other side might have experienced.

Despite him being just a child, I found myself angry at Bruno for regurgitating Nazi views and visions without recognising that what he was doing was beyond wrong. Without spoiling the story, I foresaw what was ultimately going to happen as a result of Bruno’s constant naivety, but this did not make the ending any less haunting.

A read perhaps suited to a younger audience in terms of its basic narrative, though a read worth experiencing by adults, too. Certainly an interesting novel to teach at KS3.

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