The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is the story of a naive 9-year old boy, Bruno, from Germany during WWII. Bruno’s father is a Nazi and is made the commandant of Auschwitz (which Bruno believes is called “Out-With”) after Hitler (whose title Bruno believes is “The Fury”) comes to dinner.
The family moves to Auschwitz for “the foreseeable future” and Bruno soon notices odd figures in the courtyard outside his window. He sees hundreds and hundreds of men and boys all dressed in striped pyjamas. Very lonely, Bruno is jealous of all of these boys who have each other to play with, while he has nobody but his older sister.
Bruno is a kind child, but quite self-centered. Even after meeting a young Jewish boy named Shmuel, he is convinced the people on the other side of the fence are better off than he – their extreme skinniness and dirtiness not withstanding. It seems inconceivable that he could have no idea what is going on in Europe at this time. I would not expect him to necessarily know of the goings-on at Auschwitz, but it seems inconceivable that he doesn’t really know that his country is at war, nor does he know that the Jews are being rounded up and he is supposed to hate them. It was somewhat difficult for me to suspend disbelief about these things, but luckily Boyne is a fantastic writer. The last sentences of the book, for me, totally excuse any stretch of Bruno’s abilities to ignore what is going on around him.
Unlike so many books on the holocaust, this one is told from the point of view of an innocent who is, by default, on the side of the Nazis. This is not a boy making brave attempts to save others, this is not a boy persecuted. This is just a boy, affected in his own selfish way by war, and this is a story that is worth reading.