Friday, June 12, 2009
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
What a depressing book! For whatever reason, I keep picking up real downer books. I just finished The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne. Now, it's about the Holocaust, so I knew it would be depressing, but I didn't expect the ending at all! I figured what would happen, but it was more sad than I was expecting.
Basically, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is about a boy named Bruno whose father is a Nazi officer. He doesn't know anything about the Holocaust, but his family is sent to live in a house on the border of Auschwitz where his father can command. Bruno questions why there are people on the other side of the fence and why they were striped pyjamas.
As Bruno questions, he finds out SOME answers, but not enough to make him fully understand the catastrophes occuring on the other side of the fence. He knows there are Jews over there, but he doesn't understand why they are considered to be "bad" and that they are starving and killing them in mass amounts.
Bruno's father and the Nazi army are also depicted as demonic and cruel. The officers are mean and demeaning to Jews. Bruno's grandparents even have a massive fight at Christmas dinner where they question Bruno's father's commitment to the Nazi party. We see the child's outside perspective, but knowing about the Holocaust, the reader fills in the missing pieces.
Bruno makes friends with a boy named Shmuel who is very, very skinny. Even through their discussions and meetings at a chain link fence, Bruno learns very little about life on the other side of the fence. They constantly compare their lives, but not much is revealed. Bruno slips food to Shmuel but doesn't understand that he is literally starving.
At the end of the novel, Bruno decides to go on one last adventure with Shmuel before he returns with his family back home to Berlin. He decides to help Shmuel find his father who is missing on the other side of the fence. He is given an extra pair of striped pyjamas, and Bruno is shocked to see treatment on the other side of the fence. The only thing we are left with at the end of the book is that Bruno never returns home. It is assumed that him and Shmuel are gassed and killed. What a horrible ending. I assumed that Shmuel would be killed, but not Bruno too! How horrendous! But it is terribly ironic--Bruno's father received the horror he was dishing out to others.
However, as I was doing some reading, I saw that the novel received much criticism for its inaccuracy. For instance, boys under 12 years old, the same age as Shmuel, were murdered upon entering the camps. Everyone miles around could smell the stench of the extermination camps, so Bruno would have been able to smell death and maybe come to more conclusions. Also, the surrounding fences to Auschwitz were electric. No one could escape. The fact that he escaped would never happen.
Also, I picked up on some other details. Extra clothes could not be found easily, as they had been for Schmuel. Clothes were scarce. There weren't "extra" lying around. They would have been picked up by others to keep warm for survival. Also, why could Shmuel just leisurely hang out by the fence all the time? I doubt it. They couldn't just wander, and wander by a fence that had an opening!
It wasn't a terrible book. I'm sure that a young reader could get a lot out of it. I grew very frustrated with Bruno because of his ignorance, but I think that is the point. If this was taught, which I wouldn't mind doing myself, a lot of the gaps would have to be filled in where the author leaves them out. It was sad, but most books about the Holocaust are.
Has anyone seen the movie to compare?
So what do you think of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas?