Book # 7
Usually after reading a book with a WWII setting, I have to take a break from the genre. The depravity of human behavior always shocks me, as does the will to live or to hope during such a dark time. The seriousness of these kinds of books is heavy, and reading one right after the other is hard for me. With The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I knew to expect a heaviness since I had an idea that it was set during the Holocaust. But the fact that it was written from the perspective of a 9 year-old boy really threw a curve ball into my reading.
I have an infinity to this time period. I read about it, watch documentaries and movies about it, and listen to interviews of survivors. I say this because I have an idea of the atrocities that happened at Auschwitz, but little Bruno (the narrator of the book) had no clue of what was happening on the other side of the wired fence. He’s nine. He’s German and his dad is the Commandant in charge of this concentration camp. Bruno has just moved to Auschwitz in Poland and misses his friends and the previous life that he had in Berlin. In his innocence he can’t even pronounce Auschwitz correctly and pronounces it Out-with. He even calls the Fuhrer, “fury”. One day, Bruno takes a longer walk than usual, and meets a little boy on the other side of the fence. His name is Shmuel. Shmuel is small and super thin, but Bruno at least has a friend now, since there aren’t many little boys to play with in a concentration camp.
The author, Mr. Boyne, does an incredible job to keep the book tightly locked in the perspective of a little boy. But as an adult who knows exactly what is going on in Auschwitz, who knows how obscene humans can be, the clashing contrast of these two worlds – that of a little boy in 1943 and a 41 year-old woman in 2023 – made me frantic. Bruno cannot fathom why his friend is so thin. Bruno cannot understand why the people who march, then fall and then some never get up. Bruno cannot comprehend why Shmuel shivers at the sight of the soldiers. He is clueless! As he should be! The whole time I am reading this book I am literally shaking the book to somehow shake Bruno to not eat part of the food that he brings Shmuel. To advocate for Shmuel. To stand up to the cruelty and inhumanity that his dad bestows on the prisoners of Auschwitz. But he’s only nine! He can’t even pronounce the name of the camp correctly. And even if he could comprehend that people were methodically starved and worked to death. Bruno has no power. He has no say. He has no authority. This is why I think this is an amazing book, because most of us know what happened in Auschwitz, but Mr. Boyne is able to make it read as a children’s book.
The book is astonishingly not gory or horrific. All the emotions I felt were only because of the knowledge I have of the Holocaust. The end was the hardest part to read, but written so well that my heart was pounding.
If you are a reader of WWII historical fiction, you should also read this book!
Although, the book is written from the perspective of a nine year old, it is not a children’s book. As a mother of 6 children, I would allow my older middle schoolers to read this, but no younger.
This book receives 4.5 stars out of 5 for me.
The book is 240 pages long
It has a 4.15 rating on Goodreads
If you like WWII period books, here are some I recommend:
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
The Violinist of Auschwitz by Ellie Midwood
The Huntress by Kate Quinn
Night by Elie Wiesel
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom