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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas Will Get Under Your Skin and Stay There

(Image from Barnes & Noble)
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas began with a vision: author John Boyne saw "one single image, of two boys sitting on either side of a fence, having a conversation. And I knew where that fence was. I knew those two boys really shouldn't be there" (from author interview, p. 4). The fence forms a barrier between the Commandant's home and the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz. The boys are Bruno, the 9-year-old Commandant's son, and Shmuel, a 9-year-old Jewish prisoner. Though divided by nationality, culture and a strong fence, the boys form an unlikely and dangerous friendship.
Both of the boys have been brought to Auschwitz against their will. Bruno liked his life in Berlin - he had a big house, 3 best friends, and plenty of space for exploring. When the "Fury" (Fuhrer) appoints Bruno's father to take over command at "Out-With" (Bruno's word for Auschwitz), the family has little choice but to comply. Like his mother, Bruno is not pleased with the move, especially when he sees the "empty, desolate place" (11) that is to be his new home. The area feels cold and unfriendly - worse, there are no other houses nearby, and thus no other children with whom to play. Shmuel, of course, has been forcefully removed from his home and corralled in the camp like all the other Jews. Although Bruno despises his new home, he finds Shmuel's endlessly fascinating. He longs to wear his pajamas all day and play with the crowds of children on the other side of the fence. In his innocence and ignorance, Bruno is even a little insulted that Shmuel has not yet invited him over to tea.
Although Bruno knows he is not supposed to go near the fence, he really can't understand why. How can an explorer like himself resist such an adventure, anyway? Shmuel's a true friend, and Bruno enjoys bringing him food and listening to his stories. They are united in their loathing of sadistic Lieutenant Kotler, but Bruno can't fathom why Shmuel would dislike his father. After all, the Commandant is a great and powerful man. When Shmuel arrives at the fence, frantic because his father has disappeared, Bruno suggests they appeal to the Commandant for help. Even after spending long hours with his friend, Bruno does not understand why Shmuel would veto the idea. Still, he likes Shmuel's suggestion better - the Jew will smuggle an extra pair of striped pajamas through the fence, Bruno will don his costume, sneak under the fence, and help Shmuel find his father. The guileless Bruno has no idea the kind of danger he's facing as he happily digs under the fence, ready to experience his grandest adventure yet.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an astounding story that juxtaposes childlike innocence with the worst kind of terror imaginable. Bruno's inability to believe the truth, even when he's seeing it with his own eyes, underscores the absolute horror of the Holocaust. The shocking ending hammers home the story's moral: In the end, regardless of race, color, or creed, we are all the same. Brilliant, beautiful and touching, this is a book that will get under your skin and stay there, long after you've turned the last page.
Grade: A+
(I haven't seen the movie yet, but it looks excellent. You can see the trailer here.)


  1. I read the book in almost a year ago and really thought it was an amazing read. I too am really interested in seeing the movie, although I have a feeling it will be a tear-jerker!

  2. I read this book in June, 2008 and saw the movie not long ago - both were very good! Glad you thought it was a winner. :)

  3. I agree, this book is haunting. I thought it was interesting that Boyne told the story from the side of power, but from an innocent voice within that power.

  4. My mom just saw this movie. She said it was a bit depressing but very compelling.

  5. And onto the "want to read in 2009list it goes ...

  6. I am looking forward to reading this one, hopefully this next year. I have heard such good things about it. The movie, I know, is getting mixed reviews, but I'm sure I will see that too. Thanks for a great review, Susan.

  7. Great review! I must read this book! I had no idea it was a movie.

    Diary of an Eccentric

  8. I would really like to read this one. I think I'm like number 100 on the library list though (not really, but it feels like it!).

    I'm glad you liked it.

  9. I found this book incredibly moving. I haven't seen the movie. I am not sure that I will cope with the movie because of the ending, but we will see I guess.

  10. I finished the book on Friday night and watch the movie Saturday morning.... I still can't stop thinking about Bruno and Schmuel.

    As of writing this entry, you hadn't yet seen the movie. Have you see it yet?

    Also, I have a book to recommend... "Those Who Save Us" by Jenna Blum. Absolutely amazing book... one of the best I have read.

  11. I have not read this book, but I saw the movie. Oh my goodness!!! Can I just say that that movie just about ripped out my heart. No spoilers, but I don't know if I ever cried so much or had been so emotional while watching a movie ever before in my life. Not to sound corny, but it profoundly impacted me. Not sure if everyone can handle the emotions this movie evokes.

  12. Great review! I just finished reading this one and added a link to your post on my blog post.


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