Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The

John Boyne
Berlin 1942When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.


Reviewed: 2019-06-18

Literary Awards: Pacific Northwest Library Association Young Reader's Choice Award for Intermediate (2009), Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis Nominee for Preis der Jugendjury (2008), Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Award for John Murray Show Listeners' Choice Award (2007)

Holy Sh*t - this is a book!

I wasn't planning on reading this today. It fell from my new pile, and as I went to get coffee, I started to read and finished it in one sitting. 

Original and devastating. A child "outside the fence" long before anyone knew what went on at a place he understands to be called "Out-With" where he's moved because his father has been promoted to commandant. The family is housed on the grounds and on day one Bruno sees what he imagines to be not very fun children across the field. He and his sister didn't want to move from Berlin, but what choice does a child have? So off they go to and nobody tells them much beyond they have to go. Since nobody tells them anything, they have to make it up for themselves and figure it out on their own. But how do you figure out the unimaginable? 

They've always lived in the city, so the kids first decide that a lot of strange-seeming things just are because this is "the countryside;" he calls his father's boss "the Fury." Bruno is the son of an important man in a Nazi party, but he knows nothing about it. Why should he? Nobody knew anything about what was going on in those camps for a very long time. (Recall the reactions of the grown-up soldiers who liberated the camps or the newspaper accounts in the days afterward.)

It's apolitical and not historical. It's mostly a fable and readers will need to be very young and naive or willing to suspend belief for a few hours while they step into the shoes of a young German boy who does not have the benefit of history or being outside anything but his own, very small, world. (Bruno is nine, but it feels more like around six or so. He's certainly much younger than today's nine year old kids.)

Perhaps the best part of this book comes at the very end, after the whole story is over. The narrator says,

"Of course all this happened a long time ago, and nothing like that could ever happen again. Not in this day and age."

Talk about a gut punch. 

And also an opening to what is going on in many parts of the world right now, has gone on in recent years, etc. 

I'm now listening to an interview with the author and publisher. They discuss how many survivors, their children and grandchildren have read this book and decided that they should have their children read it. Marketed as an adult book, it's a fable and would be OK for people of any age with some guard rails. If a child reads it, they will need a grown-up guide to fill in all of the things Bruno doesn't grasp. It's an opening conversation to both history and the way complacency, secrecy, prejudice, denial, and deceit have devastating consequences.

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