…by John Boyne.
9 year old Bruno lives in Berlin with his parents and older sister, Gretel, aged 12 (who he refers to as the Hopeless Case) during World War II. His normal world is turned upside down when his father is relocated for work purposes to Auschwitz. Or Out-With as Bruno innocently pronounces it. Once out here, Bruno struggles with homesickness. He misses Berlin and his friends and his school. At Out-With, he has to deal with being homeschooled along with Gretel and has no friends whatsoever. Until he notices this place from his bedroom window where there seem to be several people all in the same striped pyjamas. His father tells him that these people are not real people. They are in fact Jews. An adventurous Bruno decides to explore on his own one day only to find another boy around his age in striped pyjamas on the other side of a wire fence. Shmuel. He and Shmuel manage to strike up a friendship of sorts which involves Bruno bringing him food on occasions and talking. Bruno’s mother who has been getting depressed by the day convinces his father that she and the kids should go back to Berlin. While Bruno goes to tell Shmuel about the same, he visits him on the other side of the fence. What happens to Bruno? Can his friendship with Shmuel survive?
I had seen the movie prior to reading the book and I must say they are both similar. It’s a beautiful book looking at one of the horrors of this century through the eyes of an innocent child. In particular, you once again see how utterly ridiculous the whole notion of Hitler’s was. If kids can strike up a friendship and break through invisible barriers of religion, race, culture etc, why can’t adults? After all, in the end we are all human beings. The book and movie leave you teary-eyed and with a heavy heart. But then, given the atrocities of the time, it’s not surprising. The movie has been previously reviewed on this blog here.
Until next time,