Sunday, January 3, 2010

Boy in the Striped Pajamas--A book with a sad ending, but I wouldn't change it.

For Christmas I bought myself the book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. It was recommended to me by Matt Kirby, a fellow writer and member of my awesome critique group. He told me it would be a good read for me as my current work in progress is written through the eyes of a young German boy during WWII. He was right. I found the book not only invaluble in grasping the voice I want for my protaganist, but it was very thought provoking as well.

The story is about a nine year old boy who had to move because his father was made commandant of a prision camp. Of course, he as a young boy never thought of the camp full of people wearing striped pajamas as a concentration camp--he didn't know what that was. But me as the reader did. Just as I knew the name of the camp was not "Out-With," as Bruno referred to it as. I knew it must be Auschwitz. That was the beauty of this book, the author's ability to write through the eyes of a young boy whose innocence trancended the evils of the Third Reich, but me as the reader knew what evils were brewing.

The boy, Bruno, discovered a young boy named Shmuel on the other side of the high, barbed wire fence and returned often to that spot just to talk--they couldn't do mucn else. Bruno never thought of the boy in the striped pajamas as someone who couldn't dress as nicely as he, or as a lowely prisoner, or even as a Jew. Bruno thought of Shmuel simply as a friend.

When Bruno and Shmuel discover a gap in the bottom of the far away section of the fence, big enough for a small boy to squeeze under, he decides to come back the next day and slide under it to go and help Shmuel look for his father, who has gone missing. (We as the reader put the pieces together as to what happened to Shmuel's father). That is to be Bruno's last day to visit Shmuel as he is to move back to Berlin with his mom and his sister later that night. Shmuel brings Bruno and extra pair of stripped pajamas to wear so he can blend in and help Shmuel look for his father. But as luck would have it, Shmuel and Bruno were gathered up with a group of prisoners who were ushered into . . . you guessed it--a gas chamber. Bruno wasn't nervous, he just thought they were going into a sturdy building to get in out of the rain.

As the story progressed, I figured that Bruno would ultimately be okay. Of course his father was the commandant and would be able to pull Bruno out of any mess he would get into inside the prison fence. But as the story ended with the room going black, "Bruno was still holding Shmuel's hand in his own and nothing in the world would have persuaded him to let it go," I knew the book shouldn't have ended any other way. I felt very satisfied with the ending. This was a first for me because I am a happy ending sort of gal. But the message the book presented became all the more powerful with this poignant close.

In the author's notes at the end of the book, John Boyne said, "I believed that the only respectful way for me to deal with this subject was through the eyes of a child, and particularly through the eyes of a rather naive child who couldn't possibly understand the terrible things that were taking place around him. After all, only the victims and survivors can truly comprehend the awfulness of that time and place; the rest of us live on the other side of the fence, staring through from our own comfortable place, trying in our own clumsy ways to make sense of it all.

I loved the book and would highly recomend it.


  1. This sounds like a book I should read (although I don't like sad endings either). Can't wait to read your new one too. I have another good (and short) book you could read about a German boy (Jewish) who never quite makes it to a camp...It's called Friedrich. It's Young Adult and probably would only take you an hour. I love your blog. Thanks for pointing me to it.

  2. THat sounds intriguing. I'll have to read the book and prepare myself for the sad ending. BTW, I put music on my blog a long time ago, and I honestly don't remember how. I've wanted to change it, but I can't get it to work--I think I forgot my password or something, so good luck with that.