Friday, September 5

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of David Fickling Books and is used solely as an aide to the review.

When The Fury orders Bruno's father to move to Out-With, Bruno must leave behind the life he's known and his best friends. Bruno couldn't be lonlier until he meets a mysterious boy named Shmuel on the other side of a fence, where everyone wears striped pyjamas.

Confusion shrouds Bruno's life and his mind. Caught between a world of horror and the naïveté of his outlook on life, Bruno struggles to comprehend the world he lives in, and both the connections and the divide between him and the boy in the striped pyjamas.

This was a very quick novel for me to get through. I listened to it on audio and completed it in almost a single stretch. It is quite a haunting tale, told through the eyes of a child of a high-ranking Nazi officer.

The story is driven by Bruno, who is certainly a very naïve protagonist. He views the world as something of a game, where his highest priorities are acquiring friends. The soldiers whom he salutes and the words of allegiance he utters are all but a part of his life, unquestioned.

Even in his conversations with Shmuel, the reality that he faces is so horrific, Bruno cannot even fathom it. He is so desperate for companionship, and frightened of reality, that he seeks similarities and rejects the differences between them. He is self-involved to the point where he is grossly jealous of all the boys on the other side of the fence, wanting to have someone to play with.

One might say that Bruno seems almost too ignorant for reality, and that may be a valid criticism, but it is also very much a heightened look at the willful ignorance that was all too real. In fact, Bruno is not as oblivious as he might at first appear. He is instinctive about situations and can read people's mood and body language. He senses the truth, but he doesn't pry – and he doesn't truly listen – and therefore he doesn't understand.

Michael Maloney's narration of the audio book was haunting. He highlighted the subdued narrative of the novel, which emphasised all of the things that go unsaid. The chapters ended with eerie music, which got under my skin and helped transition the story.

The mindset of a child is releatable, but Bruno is also alienated to the horrors of the war, which many readers – while being familiar with the facts – can never fully comprehend. Instead, Boyne approaches the situation with subtlety and subtext. 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is very much an inbetween-the-lines type of novel. It has the potential to be far more detailed and fleshed out, but rather alludes to the anguish, kindness, and fates of Bruno's family and all of the people in his life.

'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is a very moving tale that I would recommend, particularly in audio format. It is, as I said, not a detailed account, but rather more of an introductory story, for young and older reader alike. However, that does not subtract from the poignant way in which it is written.

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