“What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pyjamas and which people wore the uniforms?”
Synopsis taken from Amazon:
Lines may divide us, but hope will unite us . . .
Nine-year-old Bruno knows nothing of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. He is oblivious to the appalling cruelties being inflicted on the people of Europe by his country. All he knows is that he has been moved from a comfortable home in Berlin to a house in a desolate area where there is nothing to do and no one to play with. Until he meets Shmuel, a boy who lives a strange parallel existence on the other side of the adjoining wire fence and who, like the other people there, wears a uniform of striped pyjamas.
Bruno’s friendship with Shmuel will take him from innocence to revelation. And in exploring what he is unwittingly a part of, he will inevitably become subsumed by the terrible process
I have read so many mixed reviews surrounding this novel. I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars, for the sheer heart-wrenching relationship that is developed between two nine year old boys.
The story is told from the POV of Bruno, a nine year old boy living in Berlin in 1943. His family move due to his father’s work and what he discovers in his new home will change his life forever. His father is a high-ranking soldier – a strict, respected and feared man working for Adolf Hitler. Whilst exploring his new home Bruno discovers a place in which people all wear striped pyjamas, only separated from his house by a huge wire fence. It is on one of his explorations that he discovers Shmuel.
Bruno is portrayed as a very young, naïve boy with a strong curiosity. One thing that did frustrate me about his was his lack of empathy, even when he got to know Shmuel better. I think of my young, rather intelligent and certainly inquisitive nine year old brother and wonder if he would have reacted in the same way. The one thing I am unconvinced about, hence the four stars, is that the inquisitive nature of this young boy living with a Nazi official would not absorb the true reality surrounding him. Maybe this was a reflection of the society and children in the 1940’s, possibly the author wanted to create a sense of blindness to the events, a sort of denial or complete sense of wonder. This worked well overall, although sometimes I felt like there was a lack of reality.
The way the author conveys the soldiers is truly terrifying. I hated all of them, not just because of previous knowledge of this tragedy or assumptions of the types of men capable of causing this much pain and suffering. The way they are written in the novel creates a sense of fear, disgust and power surrounding them – especially in Lieutenant Kotler’s treatment of the house waiter. The power of this writing gives a shocking yet true sense of the utter travesty that was caused to these people.
Clearly a book written to inform young readers of one of the greatest tragedies in human history, this book uses a clever combination of wit and humour, with many dark underlying messages. The horrific events that happen in the novel are never described in full blow by blow detail, this made it all the more real for me. It was as if these events were too shocking to mention.
Without giving too much away – the ending was extremely poignant. An utterly heart-breaking way to end this story, with what I see as the author trying to reclaim human equality.
If you haven’t read this book then do – even just for the power of friendship.
Source: Paperback (Library Copy) First Published: 11th Sept 2008
Pages: 272 Score: 4 out of 5
‘A heart-breaking, tear-jerking novel that uncovers one of the greatest tragedies in human history through the eyes of a young child. Powerful and poignant, a must read for children, teenagers and adults.’