The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by Boyne John
Bruno has no idea what his father does, but he knows it is important and something to fear. Everyone says he is someone to watch and there is no doubt that the Fury has big plans for him. When the family is moved to “Out-With” so his father can take a new post, Bruno is upset but quickly adjusts to their new home. He’s lonely and there are soldiers everywhere. His sister and his mother are acting funny and his father seems tense. An explorer at heart, Bruno entertains himself by roaming the countryside. He is particularly interested in the fenced in area near the house, and the people inside who wear striped pajamas. One day he encounters a boy near his age behind the fence and the two begin meeting regularly. Bruno does not understand why the people are on the other side of the fence, but he gets along with Shmuel and they have a lot in common, including a birthday. After a dramatic confrontation involving Bruno’s sister Gretel and one of the young soldiers, Bruno’s mother decides that she must get her children away from “Out-With”. Bruno tells his friends, Shmuel, that he will be returning to Berlin in a few days and the two decide to have one great adventure together. Shmuel brings Bruno a pair of striped pajamas, and Bruno slips under the fence to help his friend find his missing father. During their exploration, however, they are herded into a large trailer and shut in along with many others. After he is missing for several months, Bruno’s clothes are found beside the fence and his father puts together the pieces.
I have read several reviews of this novel online that suggest that such an encounter is historically impossible, but it is hard to deny the power of the story or the haunting quality of the final images. The story is told entirely from Bruno’s point of view so his naivete as to the horror he is witnessing is easy to accept. His mispronunciations of both Auschwitz and the Furor are heart warming and apt. Readers of all ages will find themselves unable to tear themselves away, even when they realize what is happening. I could not read fast enough and when I passed the book on to my mother and sister, they both called me as soon as they finished and wanted to discuss it. The entirety is well paced and I appreciate that the author does not cheapen the story by trying to create a happy ending. Younger readers may be troubled by the ending, both because it does not detail Bruno’s fate and because the implied fate is upsetting. Adults should be prepared to discuss both the historical and emotional ramifications of the story. Regardless of where the reader stands on the historical accuracy, this is sure to provoke discussion and would make an interesting addition or introduction to a lesson on the Holocaust.
*Note: Edition referred to is the Advanced Reader’s Copy provided by Random House.