The Boy in Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne
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 from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see 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 to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
I watched the film based on this novel a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it, I cried at the end and it made me feel really emotional, however I have just finished the book and I didn’t feel the same emotions as I did watching the film. I found the character Bruno very irritating albeit he is only a 9 year old naive little boy but I found his way of thinking and view on the world really frustrating.
What I liked about the novel was that the perspective was told from the “enemy” a family of Germans who’s father was very high up in the Nazi regime and in charge of the Auschwitz camp. Most historical fiction novels are told from the Jews in the camps point of of view, so I felt like this was a different take and an interesting way to tell the story.
The novel is centred around Bruno and his family, who have recently moved to Auschwitz as his father gains a promotion. Bruno has nothing to do and like most 9 year old boys likes to go on adventures, one day he walks to the fence and meets Schmal, a malnourished, sad, jewish boy who is part of the camp. Bruno and Schmal are shown as the innocent and naive characters, as children they don’t quite understand what is currently happening and why they need to hate each other, especially when they get along so well and have lots in common. Bruno’s father and the soldier Lieutenant Kotler are seen as the evil, cruel and coldhearted characters completely opposite of the children; although themselves feel no guilt or remorse on the cruel things they are doing and they themselves feel “innocent”. Alongside this “innocence” there is a lot of ignorance in the novel too. The adults are ignorant that they are killing thousands of people, Bruno’s father is ignorant and doesn’t even know Bruno is at the fence every single day. The children are ignorant too, Bruno eats some of the food he brings to Schmal, he understands that Schmal is hungry yet eats the cake and bread along the way, although he does feel guilt when he does so. I’m not sure if the characters are innocent or just ignorant there are a lot of things to suggest both throughout the book.
What I couldn’t quite comprehend in the novel was how little Bruno understood or knew about Nazi Germany, he had no idea who Hitler was and called him the “fury”, he had no idea what or where he was living and called Auschwitz “Out With”, he didn’t understand the fence or the people behind it, he didn’t understand what a Jew was it was just a word adults said to him. At one point Bruno says “Heil Hitler he said which he presumed was another way of saying “Well goodbye for now and have a pleasant afternoon” would he really not of known ANYTHING about the world he was living in. Surely in school at 9 years old they would of started to brainwash the children into saying Nazi’s are good, Jews are bad, Hitler is amazing… He knew nothing and I felt that wouldn’t have been accurate. I did ask my friend who is a secondary school History and English teacher who assured me that he probably wouldn’t have known a lot about this, he wouldn’t have cared about it and his family seemed to have sheltered him and his sister from it for a long time. Though looking on the internet at ho 9 year olds think I came across this from verywellfamily.com “They may start to understand that things that are happening now, such as climate change, may affect their future”. I remember when I was around 9 years old and 911 was happening, I didn’t particularly understand what a terrorist was or who Bin Laden was but I did understand what what I saw was not right, that it was bad people doing something and it was scary. Bruno didn’t even seem to have any of these emotions at all.
As there are so many great historical fiction novels about Nazi Germany such as The Book Thief or the Tattooist of Auschwitz I felt like this novel didn’t live up to what I had read before. I understand this book is aimed at a younger audience however Bruno’s total ignorance to the world he lived in just totally frustrated me. But maybe that’s because I don’t understand how 9 years olds think and I don’t know how much he would of known. In my opinion I just felt like the story was a little farfetched, Schmal definitely wouldn’t have survived that long in a camp as most small children were shot dead before they even set foot inside a camp, and like I have said before Bruno’s character just really irritated me.
How realistic do you think historical fiction novels need to be? Does this book only work for a younger audience? Did you enjoy this book or like me find Bruno frustrating?
I would love to know your thoughts and opinions, thanks for reading. Katie x