Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Book Review: The Boy in Striped Pajamas

This book has been in print for several years and has sold over  5 million copies. I read it as part of my goal of reading top YA novels this year.

The Boy in Striped Pajamas
The book

 This book, while being listed as a young adult novel about the holocaust, it is emotionally disturbing and probably not suitable for anyone under 13.

Bruno is a nine year old boy living in Berlin during WWII. When his father his father is promoted to commandant, the family moves to a prison camp. It’s not only a promotion, but the father’s duty. But Bruno doesn’t understand where it is he lives or why the people who live there wear striped pajamas all day. Naïve by today’s standards, it’s not unthinkable for a sheltered child in 1943 to not know what is going on.

When Bruno decides to go exploring, he wanders to the fence surrounding the camp where he meets a boy named Shmuel, who was born the exact same day he was. Bruno visits Shmuel each day, although he remains ignorant of why Shmuel is on the other side of the fence and exactly what goes on there.

Bruno’s 12 year old sister Gretel tries to appear wordly wise and is crushing on a young soldier during this time, failing to see how cruel he really is.

One day Bruno discovers Shmuel at his house cleaning glasses for a party because they needed someone with small hands for the job. Bruno gives Shmuel some food, but when the young soldier discovers that Shmuel has food, Bruno denies it letting Shmuel get beaten for stealing. Despite that they remain friends.

When lice are discovered in Bruno’s hair, the hair is shaved. Shmuel and Bruno agree they look more alike now. That works in their favor when they make a plan for Bruno to dress in prison garb and sneak under the fence to help Bruno search for his father.

I’m not going to write more because I don’t want to spoil an emotionally gripping--and disturbing--ending.

There is a lot of criticism of this book because there would not have been a young child at the prison camp. Those too young to work would have been killed instead. It is also said that the book trivializes the holocaust, but being a young adult book offering a different point of view it works for me.  Yes, there are problems with it. It’s highly unlikely that 9 year old child of a high ranking official would not know what a Jew is and that he would remain so ignorant of what was going on practically in his own backyard. And it’s not likely that the boys could sit by the fence for hours without being discovered and even less likely that Bruno could sneak under the fence. If it were that easy, the prisoners would have escaped. But it is fiction after all.

The book stands out because it’s written from the perspective of the 9 year old son of the commandant of Auschwitz, and we see the camp through the eyes of a naïve young boy. That makes it easy to get caught up in the story and allows it to leave a lasting impression.

 The Movie

I watched the movie after reading the book. For some reason they made the boys 8 instead of 9. And in the movie when Bruno displays his ignorance of what the prison really is by calling it a farm, his sister tells him it’s a prison camp for Jews. When Bruno wonders why, she tells him the Jews are the enemy and that there are no good Jews.

 Unlike the book, Bruno takes a checkers game with him to visit Shmue,l and the boys play by Shmuel telling Bruno which checker to move for him.

These are only a couple of the many differences, yet the movie remains true to the spirit of the book. And I like the movie ending better because of the immediacy with which the family realizes the tragedy that has occurred. 

1 comment:

  1. I read it last year in school and I thought it was sad. I can understand why people would criticize it but I wouldn't want to read a book where everyone dies and all the kids hate the Jews. Let the kid be naive for a while longer.