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Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

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Author: John Boyne / Genre: Fiction

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    31 Reviews
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      14.09.2013 18:52
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      A thought-provoking tale of the Holocaust, from a child's point of view

      I'd read a couple of John Boyne's other books before, so of course felt obliged to read his most famous creation. It's a famous enough story that I already knew the plot before I started, but this didn't spoil it for me; the book is well written and has enough depth to still be enjoyable, if enjoyable is the right word for a book about the Holocaust!

      The story is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno, who lives in Berlin until one day he comes home and finds the maid packing his belongings. His mother tells him they are moving house, because Father has a new, very important job, and the whole family will have to move with him. So Bruno, his mother and father, and his sister Gretel (a Hopeless Case), are all moved to a new house, at a place called Out-With. The house isn't nearly as nice as their one in Berlin, and there is no-one around for Bruno to play with. Out of his window, he can see a group of people living in small huts, on the other side of a fence, all wearing the same striped pyjamas; but he has been forbidden to go near the fence, and can't go and play with them. One day, however, Bruno decides to go exploring. He walks along the fence, until he meets the eponymous boy in the striped pyjamas. His name is Schmuel, and the two become firm friends. Bruno doesn't really understand why Schmuel is forced to live separately, but his friendship with the boy will change his life.

      One of the cleverest things about the book is that it is told entirely from the perspective of the nine-year-old Bruno, and John Boyne has done a fantastic job of capturing the voice of a child. At no point are we specifically told that the book is about the Holocaust, or even that it's set during the Second World War. Instead we just get references to how life has changed - they now have to switch lights off at night - and a child's mispronunciations to give us hints: Out-With instead of Auschwitz, the Fury instead of the Fuhrer. At one point Bruno muses that saying 'Heil Hitler' must mean much the same thing as saying good afternoon. What we get is a brutal adult's world seen through the eyes of an innocent child. For Bruno, the horrors of war and concentration camps are something that does not feature in his world, but as readers we know exactly what is going on, and to view his innocence is heart-breaking. The ending is also heart-breaking; even though it is left purposefully vague, because Bruno himself doesn't understand what is going on, it is obvious to the reader what has happened. Although supposedly a children's book, I am not sure whether children would really be able to appreciate it; I think you already need a good understanding of the Holocaust to understand the story, and only then do you get its important message, so maybe one for older children only. While I am sure most people don't need reminding just how awful the Holocaust was, this book brings the message home in a fresh, original, and thought-provoking manner.

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        14.07.2013 21:07
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        Fantastic book, if a bit sad in places

        I was advised to read this book by my aunt who is a librarian. I always trust her recommendations, although the cover and the blurb doesn't give much details about this book, and she just warned me that it had a very sad ending. This has been made into a film, although I've never watched it, as I found the book so sad.

        At the start of the book. we meet Bruno who is 9. He lives with his parents, 12 year old sister Gretel (a Hopeless Case in Bruno's mind) and their staff in a large house in Berlin. His dad works for the 'Fury' and a visit from the 'Fury' means that Bruno and his family are moving house without much notice. Understandable, Bruno is against this move, his friends and family are in Berlin, and he doesn't want to leave behind his plans for the summer with his 'Friends for LIfe'. However, his father's job takes him to a place called 'Out-With' which doesn't look very nice in the eyes of Bruno, although he does find that there are children who live in the complex behind their house. Though these children look very strange to Bruno, they have sunken eyes, shaved heads and wear stripped pyjamas. However, the optimism of Bruno and his willingness to make new friends regardless of how they look means that he gets to know Shmuel and an unlikely friendship is formed.

        In case you haven't worked it out, this book is set in the 2nd World War times, and the 'Fury' is Bruno's name for Hitler, same with their house in 'Out-With'. Bruno's dad has been given the job of looking after the Jews in the concentration camp, although Bruno and Gretel is largely unaware of what exactly goes on next door to their new house, and although warned not to get involved, Bruno is so excited about meeting a new friend that he throws caution to the wind. Although, Bruno is keen to keep on side of the soldiers, and at one point getting Shmuel into trouble, when Bruno claimed that he didn't know Shmuel, he always returns back to the gap in the fence and brings 'presents' for his friend.

        Life then changes, Bruno's mother decides that 'Out-With' is nowhere for children to live, and although Bruno is excited about going back to Berlin, he knows he will miss Shmuel. When Shmuel doesn't appear for a few days just before Bruno is due back, Bruno worries that he has lost his friend. Thankfully Shmuel reappears, and they decide on one last adventure together, Shmuel has agreed to get Bruno some stripped pyjamas so that he can see for himself what life is like and also to go on an adverture to find Shmuel's dad who has diappeared.

        Shmuel and Bruno then find themselves caught up in a crowd, and despite Bruno's initial protests, the force of the crowd around them brings them to a large room. Bruno holds hands with Shmuel and promises to never let go. Bruno and Shmuel have no idea what the significance of this room, but they know no matter what, they will be together through this adventure.

        I loved this book. I loved the tale of the two worlds colliding and the innocence and perseverence of a young boy and the importance of his friendships with others. The book does end very suddenly, but I guess there wasn't much more that needed to be said. The story doesn't mention the horror of the concentration camps from an adult point of view, but it is implied. I found this book's innocence really appealing, that something so positive came from something so awful and the terms used (the 'Fury' and the 'Out-With'). I know this book was a work of fiction, but the world war wasn't a work of fiction, and this could have happened for real. This was a very short book at 215 pages, and I read it in about an hour or so. I'll admit this book did make me cry (and I don't often cry when I am reading books) as I just thought it was such an amazing, if sad, ending.

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          29.07.2012 08:36
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          Effective novel about prison camps from John Boyne

          Usually, I read the book before I watch the film where possible, but having seen the film for this two years ago, I have only recently realised it was based on a book. I thought the take was very good, and so endeavoured to pick up the book and give it a go too.

          John Boyne's book is somewhat controversial in its depiction of one of the horrors of the war through the eyes of a 9 year son of a German officer. Bruno is a typical 9 year old boy, inquisitive beyond belief and innocent throughout. When he and his sister Gretel have to move from the comfort of their large Berlin house, away from all of their friends and everything they are used to, they are dismayed to be moving to a smaller and more remote house, adjacent to some sort of wilderness area surrounded by a fence.

          It's here that Bruno longs to explore, even though he is told he is never to go near the fence. But when no one is aware, he goes exploring along the fence, and eventually comes to a part of it where he meets a boy exactly the same age as him, wearing grey and white striped pyjamas. Through their conversations, the two boys realise just how different everything is for them. While Bruno has everything he needs, his new friend Schmuel is clearly a prisoner, although Bruno is too young to understand exactly what is going on, despite attempts from 12 year old Gretel to help.

          What the book does is to try and demonstrate the depravity of certain aspects of the war and prison camps, through the eyes of the innocents: children. Really, Bruno and Schmuel are no different at all. Boyne is clear that they are born on the same day, they talk about similar things and have the same outlook on others. The difference is in how they are treated, with Bruno living in comfort and Schmuel wasting away. The boys' meetings continue throughout the book once they encounter each other for the first time, and despite Bruno smuggling food in for Schmuel, the boy in the striped pyjamas seems to get thinner.

          Boyne tries to write from a 9 year old's perspective, and gets it right most of the time. I think you have to allow him a certain amount of artistic licence in order to get his points across, but essentially it's all about how horrible things like prison camps were, without it actually ever going into particular detail about it. The unspoken atrocities sort of mirror how we often cope or deal with something so horrible that the vast majority of us never had to be exposed to. The writing style is simple and uncomplicated, written with the innocence of the characters, who are very well developed.

          The book focuses mainly on Bruno, and Schmuel once he enters into it. However, the first chunk of the book is spent establishing the relative comfort Bruno's life has, and how the things that are inconvenient for him seem so important. This of course then pales into insignificance once we arrive at the prison camp he mishears and calls 'Out-With'! To get to this stage, Boyne develops those around Bruno very clearly and carefully, from Bruno's family, to the best friends he slowly but surely forgets about, then their butler and maid, other German officers, and the 'Fury' himself. There's often no explanation for these mixed up terms that Bruno uses, assuming we will understand that it's Auschwitz and the Fuhrer, and that it's all a horror that somehow escapes a naive and innocent 9 year old German whose new best friend is a mirror, save that he's a Polish Jew.

          The boys are aware they are different and they shouldn't be friends, but it doesn't stop them, and I think it's the questioning humanitarianism of the two of them that is the most powerful thing here - how they are the most important thing, the development and future of the two nations, yet it is they who are the punished in this tale. Boyne maintains the innocent writing style from Bruno's point of view, maintaining the third person effectively indeed. I was impressed by this book, and even though I had seen the film already, it didn't spoil it for me. There is a powerful ending, which I think has more power in the book as you need to visualise it yourself. Easy to read and very powerful, a respectful and defiant tale. Recommended.

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          07.03.2012 15:21
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          Very hard to put down!

          This book had been on my wish list for quite some time, but I didn't receive it as a gift until my birthday last year. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of watching the film before reading the book which took away a lot of the pleasure that I would have otherwise gotten from reading the book. Although I saw the movie quite some time ago, I still remembered bits and pieces so I knew, more or less, what would happen in the book and that ruined it for me a little. My advice to you would be NOT to watch the film, at least not until you've read the book.

          Nine year old Bruno lives a happy, care-free life in Berlin during World War 2. He doesn't know anything about the Final Solution or the Holocaust-his biggest problem is not being as tall as other boys his age. However, Bruno is soon informed that his father has a new job as a Commandant and the family has to move to a place that Bruno mishears as Out-With (this is actually Auschwitz). Bruno dislikes his new home in the countryside as it is very different from the hustle bustle of Berlin. Bruno doesn't see any other children around at first, and is disappointed by this, until he looks out his window and sees a huge wire fence near their house with children on the other side. There are other people there too, of different ages, but all wearing grey striped pyjamas. Bruno, being quite curious (as most young boys are), decides to go out and explore one day, and finds a Jewish boy his age on the other side of the fence and so begins a friendship between two boys whose circumstances are very different.

          The story is told from Bruno's point of view, and shows us the innocence of a child. I especially loved the way in which he spoke about his sister, Gretel, who was three years older than him. He refers to her as the "Hopeless Case" and thinks it would have been better if they had left her in Berlin when they moved. It was a welcome change from the other books I have read, as it was refreshing to see how a child's mind works. As Bruno describes his settings and the things that are going on around him, he doesn't have any idea what is going on, as he is shielded from the truth, but if you have any knowledge of World War 2, you should be able to figure things out quite easily.

          This book was quite an emotional read for me and I did tear up a few times. Despite the fact that I had watched the film, and so knew what was coming, I felt compelled to read it and found it hard to put down. I definitely recommend this book, but just know that it is not a light-hearted read.

          I don't know how much my copy cost as it was a gift, but this book is currently retailing for £4.20 in paperback form at Amazon and for £3.99 as a Kindle edition. I think £4.20 is a decent price for this book as it is definitely a good read.

          This review may appear on other sites under the same username.

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            23.02.2010 09:07

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            Its a must read

            I was sobbing by the end of this book. Which to me means its a good read.

            This book is based during the 2nd World War period and focuses on the a little German boy called Bruno and a period of his life that is surrounded by the death and distruction- although he is completely unaware of it all. Bruno's father is a high ranking Nazi officer (so high that Hitler even comes over for dinner), and had to move out of Berlin and take his family with him for work. They move to this big house that has no kids for Bruno to play with and nothing to do until Bruno goes on an adventure and finds a fence with a little boy on the other side to play with. I don't want to give away the rest.

            I totally fell in love with Bruno and his naivety. He honestly had no clue what was going on outside his front door. His father was a hero to him, not a murderer.

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            28.01.2010 22:00

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            This book is amazing, inspirational and leaves a lasting memory.

            This book is not my usual choice of book but having heard much hype and being recommended it by several of friends I decided to give it a try. I was instantly hooked.
            Author John Boyne captures the horror and complications of the holocaust through the eyes of Bruno, a nine year old child in this book. Early in the book Bruno discovers his family is to move to a new location, he is not impressed and reflects upon the simple things he will miss such as sliding down the bannisters! Bruno and his sister are to discover a new kind of living.
            When he arrives at his new home he finds it to be somewhere with a high wall and barbed wire. He challenges his father's authority and ventures into the grounds where he strikes up an unexpected friendship with Schmuel another very different nine year old. He is a jew.
            One day Bruno decides to venture over the wall and through the wire fence, to what becomes a very sad ending. This book is inspirational and thoughtprovoking. It is an enchanting story which I feel sure will become a classic. The Guardian once described it as,'a small wonder of a book'. It appeals to both teenagers and adults alike and can be purchased with two differing covers. Recently, this book has been made into a film.

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            06.09.2009 22:28
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            A fantastic perspective of the time

            My mother bought this book for me for my holiday and all I can say is don't read it on your holiday! It really is such a sad and thought-provoking story, which I was thinking about the whole time. It was so difficult to put down and because it is so short I read it within an afternoon.

            The story revolves around a child called Bruno, who is moved to Poland from Berlin because of his father's job as a commandant at Auschwitz. Bruno doesn't realise what is going on around him and his innocence is charming yet disturbing. When he moves to his new house next to Auschwitz he hates what he has come to, not because of what is going on but because there is nothing to explore and his house has only three storeys instead of five. He has to leave his three "friends for life" and his grandparents back in Berlin and there are no children for him to play with. That is when he sees some children on "the other side of the fence" in what he calls stripey pyjamas. His dreams of becoming an explorer lead him to venture out one day and discover what is the other side of this fence and who the people are. This is where he meets a young Jewish prisoner of the same age with the same birthday, Schmuel, and the two become best friends and meet on opposite sides of the fence. It is moving how their relationship progresses and Bruno's innocence shields him from the true horror of what his friend is going through.

            What I particularly liked about this book was that it shows a human side to the German people during the war. Bruno is oblivious to the brain-washing and persecution and his grandmother is also ashamed that her son has become involved in such a regime. So often are the German people of the period grouped together as Nazis but the book does not portray everyone in this manner. It is also rather charming how Bruno mispronounces Auschwitz as "Out-with" and the Fuhrer as the "Fury"and he doesn't even know he is in Poland until Schmuel informs him. He also eats half the food he brings to give to Schmuel on the way to see him because he cannot understand the situation well enough. Although we don't really hear much of the atrocities that are occurring as it is told from a child-like point of view we can gather that his father is heavily involved as the "Fury" comes to dinner and also has great things for him. Although the way Bruno's mind works is charming, it is also sickening that he thinks so much of his father and thinks his father must be different to all the rest.

            As I said before I really found this book thought provoking because it is told from a view-point that we don't usually read about such serious matters from. The childhood innocence portrayed makes you think about how much better the world would be if we didn't all grow up and could maintain that innocence for longer. You get the feeling that Schmuel wants to tell Bruno more but is either scared of losing his friend or that he doesn't want to spoil the image that Bruno has developed. It is this innocence that leads to the terrible consequences of the ending and this is the most tragic part of the whole book.

            This book retails at £6.99, which I feel is a little expensive for a book of this length but still it is certainly worth a read and it was also made into a film, which I shall be seeking out shortly. I would definitely reccomend it to anyone and although it doesn't give a great understanding of the facts of the Holocaust it certainly gives a perspective that will move you. As I said, don't take it on holiday because although it is easy to read the message behind it is far to heavy on the mind to be able to dismiss when you have finished.

            Also on ciao under escargot86

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              30.08.2009 17:53
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              An interesting twist on the wrong side of the tracks friendship story.

              PLOT :
              The story of the boy in the striped pyjamas begins in Berlin, on a day when young Bruno, the son of a high ranking Nazi Officer (soon to be commander) comes home to his wonderful five storey house to find the maid packing all of his belongings into boxes. After demanding answers from his mother, Bruno is told that he must help Maria to pack up his things as they are moving from Berlin, due to his fathers work, and that whether he likes it or not they are going.

              We follow Bruno, his mother, father and his elder sister Gretel on their journey to their new home known in Bruno's mind as Out-With. From his first moment their Bruno knows he hates Out-With, for one it is far smaller than his home in Berlin with only three fours instead of five, and far more importantly for Bruno there is no place for exploring and no friends for him to play with. He misses everything about Berlin and expresses his distaste to anyone who will listen, that is until he is told that if this is what his father wants it must be the best thing for the family. This is when Bruno realises that he is stuck in his new home for the forseeable future and may as well make the best of it.

              So as any young boy would do Bruno goes exploring, and after lots of unexciting finds, one day he decides to take a long walk along the wire fence that runs as far as his eyes can see along the right hand side of the garden attached to their house. After walking for so long he thinks it must be time to turn back, Bruno notices something that keeps him walking on, away from the house. That something is a person, wearing of all strange things blue and white striped pyjamas, this is something Bruno has seen before from the window of his bedroom, lots of these people in strange clothes walking around on the other side of the fence, but he has never seen one up close.

              What happens next is both strange and beautiful, Bruno sees that the person on the other side of the fence is boy around his age, and the two sit down and talk together, albiet on opposite sides of the fence. Here begins the start of a great friendship of two boys from opposite livestyles. They share information about their lives, their familys and of their dreams and you see the boys grow closer in the frienship. That is until the day that something happens to change everything.

              OPINION:
              I have to say the reason I read this book was after reading a review of the film, and I thought that it would be one where the emotion would be better captured by the book rather than the film and although I haven't had chance to see the movie I would agree that the book was definately an emotional read.

              I loved the idea of the book being told from Bruno's perspective as quite often children have such a different view of the world that it's kind of magical to experience it in a different way. Although I will add the book is not necessarily historically acurate as anyone with reasonable knowledge on the holocaust and that era will know that most young children espcially those of Nazi families would have been taught about the difference between Nazi's and Jews and been educated and possibly heavily influenced by the Nazi Youth.

              But I think if you take the story at face value of it being a story essentially about the importance of friendship rather than picking out the historical imperfections, then the boy in the striped pyjamas is a fantastic novel from John Boyne, and definately one I would recommend, it has only taken me two days to complete the books as with only 218 (I think) pages it's not exactly a tome. But it did have me hooked, wanting to know what was going to happen to Bruno and his family, whether he was ever going to find out what the strange people on the other side of the fence were doing? And if he would ever get to return to his beloved home in Berlin?

              5/5 from me, definately a must read. Some strong storytelling from Boyne and a powerful message about friendship, how important it is to be a good friend and how it does't matter what backgrounds you come from or how much in common you have, or what nationality you are. Everyone needs friends and friendship doesn't descriminate between religion, skin colour or background.

              *^* Not sure if I have given too much plot detail here so if that's the case please message and let me know and I will edit *^*

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                13.07.2009 23:42
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                fantastic book. hard to put down!

                I think this book is an amazing piece of work. It really grabbed my attention and I felt like I was actually there, experiencing it with them as every tiny detail happened. I couldnt put this book down and normally it takes me a while to read a complete book. This book is perfect for someone who is interested in the holocaust and what happened. It isnt too graphic but enables you to imagine what it must have felt like living on both sides of the fence. It shows you just how naive children are and how much easier it is being a child, you don't know the difference between good and bad, you just make friends and have a good time. This is an all round good book and i would definately recommend this to anyone who is remotely interested in world war two and the holocaust. This is a must buy!

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                  07.07.2009 21:22
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                  A fictional tale of the holocaust which feels all too real.

                  "The story of 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas' is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the cover, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about. If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn't a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. We hope you never have to cross such a fence."

                  Ordinarily, the purpose of a book review would be to describe the plot of the book, along with it's successes and failures, so that you, the reader, can make an informed decision as to whether this is a book worth reading. There would usually be a summary of events followed by an opinion. While I am not going to summarise the events of this particular story in much detail (with good reason), I am going to give you my opinion.

                  My opinion is this: The Boy in The Striped Pyjamas is definitely a book worth reading.

                  As the Blurb on the back cover states, too many clues given about this story would most definitely spoil it's reading. This is a lesson that you need to learn on your own and the realisation of the occurring events is all part of that. Told in a very childlike and simplistic style this book appears from the outset to be a children's book, though I am sure it was never entirely intended this way. It seems much more likely that Boyne chose to tell this story to adults through the eyes of a child as this is the simplest, most effective way of getting across the details of a very sensitive subject, with the sort of naivety and wonder that only a child can possess. A child can question issues that adults dare not, and see the bigger picture in plain black and white, and this is indeed what the protagonist Bruno does for the audience.

                  I don't think it would ruin the story too much to tell you that it is about the Holocaust, although it is one told from an angle you would perhaps not expect. The story treats the issues raised sensitively, showing that there were innocent parties on both sides, and that the ignorance about what was going on extended beyond children to adults. However this sensitivity doesn't mean that the author tiptoes around the issues, the events described are still disturbing, frightening and upsetting. Nine year old Bruno doesn't give you facts or details straight up, simply because he doesn't know them, leaving you to piece together the puzzle with your own knowledge of the Holocaust, no matter how limited.

                  Often when Bruno questions the adults of the story about the events unfolding in front of him they cannot give him an answer, which only serves to highlight that there was no answer nor reason as to why those events happened, or indeed were allowed to happen. Throughout school I was given many lessons about the Holocaust. We were taken on a trip to a Holocaust museum and even have the privilege of seeing a survivor talk about his horrific experiences firsthand. Even though this taught me about the atrocities committed and how disgusting they were, I found that it is this book that taught me more about the horrors of the holocaust than my previous education. Perhaps it is because I am older, and more able to comprehend just how terrible this event was, but this story hit me emotionally in a way that books and pictures couldn't. I found myself sobbing to the final tragic scene and never has a book or film ever made me cry so hard as this. By telling you the story through the eyes of one child you can begin to understand the fear, the confusion and the suffering that those people went through in a way that statistics and numbers cant express.

                  I wish I had been taught this book at school. Perhaps then all my fellow classmates who wandered idly around the museum disinterested or sniggered when the survivor began to speak might have acted differently and at least tried to understand. Read it, then read it to your children, it will definitely open your eyes.

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                  14.05.2009 23:07
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                  Excellent study text and introduction to sensitive issue

                  I was introduced to this book in the school where I work; fortunate enough to witness a year 7 group working their way through it and exploring the historical context and drawing the links between the distorted perspective of a 9 year old and the reality of the enormity of what is going on around him. Except this reality never hits home before it is too late.

                  This text is cleverly written and allowed students to approach a sensitive issue without it becoming overwhelming. They shared in Bruno's naivety and were drawn in with the short chapters and ambiguous endings which left questions as to what would happen next and gave them incentive to read on.

                  Overall the book is one I had to read in the first sitting; this wasn't hard to do as it is fairly short and simple but the message is quiet and uncomfortable "This is not a book for nine year olds". This is a book for everyone about a time we should never forget or overlook from a perspective I haven't seen before. Wonderfully, carefully and simply written. Wonderful.

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                    11.04.2009 14:35
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                    A good little novel, well-written but not ground-breaking.

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

                    9-year-old Bruno lives in a large five-storey house in Berlin, along with his 12-year-old sister Gretel, their mother, their father and the family's servants.

                    Berlin is his home and where he wants to be, his grandparents and best friends living fairly close by, and his biggest enjoyment comes from exploring, liking himself to the knights and crusaders in his story books, and discovering all of the little nooks and crannies no one else knows about.

                    After the Fury comes to dinner and assigns his father a special position, Bruno and his family must move out into the country to a smaller, dusty home in a place called Out-With.

                    Needless to say, Bruno is not happy.

                    Not only is the house smaller, but he has had to leave his grandparents and his best friends behind, and there is no one in Out-With to take their place and certainly no one to play with.

                    Soldiers come and go as they please, having meetings with Bruno's father in his office, and he only rarely catches snippets of information, most, if not all, he does not understand.

                    What is curious is that from his bedroom window he can see a cordoned off area beyond the grounds of his house, surrounded by barbwire and containing lots and lots of people, young and old, all with their heads shaved and wearing similar striped pyjamas.

                    Although he asks about them, no one seems able to give Bruno an answer he can understand.

                    One day, when out exploring by himself, he comes across a young boy on the other side of the fence called Shmuel, his features grey and gaunt, and they strike up a friendship, swapping their stories, neither able to understand or imagine that of the other.

                    Who are the people on the other side of the fence and why are they there?

                    And what has happened to Shmuel's father who's gone missing?

                    "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is an interesting little novel that has recently been given the big film treatment, and is certainly one of those stories I wanted to read before I watched the movie.

                    The key thing here is that the story is all told from the perspective of the 9-year-old Bruno - not in first person, but from a children's author-style voice, explaining everything matter-of-factly and taking everything for face-value, never really letting on that they know more than they're saying.

                    Because of this, the story is read in such a way that we know *exactly* what is going on and as we progress through the 200-odd pages, we, like Bruno's parents, desperately want to protect the young boy's innocent view of the world - one where Bruno's father is a good man with good intentions, even though *we* know he is in charge of a Death Camp.

                    It may well beg the question as to who this book is aimed at, adults who know full-well what happened at Auschwitz, or children who are being introduced to the history for the first time.

                    And I think the full-effect of the novel will only be understood by adults, even though it is told in such a simple way, and this is really to the author's credit, especially Bruno and Shmuel's conversations comparing their lives, and the adults' armbands for example, completely oblivious to the meaning behind either the Swastika or the Star of David.

                    The child-eye-view really helps to get to the bottom of why none of what the soldiers are doing seems right - how could one explain to a child the difference between his friends back home and those on the other side of the fence?

                    But while this is all well and good, "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" isn't perfect.

                    Sometimes Bruno's actions and his dialogue seem a little too adult-like and not those of a 9-year-old boy, and while the flashbacks to his time in Berlin are well written, there is too little realisation for the characters and coming to terms with the situation.

                    Bruno's 12-year-old sister Gretel, for example, seems to be ignoring everything completely, and a lot more things are hinted at and aren't really explored, which means that there are points in the book that feel like missed opportunities.

                    The simple finale, which can be seen from a mile away and is suitably heart-breaking, feels too neat a wrapping up - for someone who knows all about what is going on, the novel will add nothing new or unexpected, except a firmer understanding in the danger of speaking up.

                    "The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas" is a good novel, explaining the events of WWII from a unique perspective, but it doesn't really challenge any conceptions or tell us anything new.

                    It's worth a read, but don't expect any great revelations.

                    [The book can be purchased from play.com for £3.49 (at time of writing), including postage and packing]

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                    06.04.2009 21:30
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                    Two children strike up an unlikely friendship across a great divide.

                    This book, so reads the Guardian quote adorning its front cover, relates the story of "a moment in history that can't be told enough times". Falling within the already heavily-stuffed genre of war novels; specifically Holocaust literature, that statement may not be entirely true. A lot has been said about the subject, and though it is undoubtedly one which merits the scrutiny, it takes a special kind of novel to offer a fresh perspective on the well-documented horrors without exploiting them for emotional impact.

                    The ostensible success of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas suggests that this is one of those novels. A bestseller around the world, John Boyne's book was also turned into a film in 2008. The first edition of the novel gave away notably little of the plot in the blurb, only stating that this is a story about two boys who met on either side of a fence - suggesting that a reading relatively unmarked by preconceptions or expectations was the kind favoured by the author. However, later editions and the release of the film have seen more of the premise laid out in advance, and I will follow that lead.

                    Bruno is a nine year-old boy - and, we gather, a fairly privileged one at that. He lives in a grand house in Berlin and is used to the attentions of maids and servants - as we join the story, though, all this is about to change, much to our protagonist's chagrin. In line with the 'big things' expected of his father, a high-ranking soldier, Bruno's family are being transported away from the hustle and bustle of the capital to a most peculiar place. In the middle of nowhere stands the house which Bruno will come to call home, isolated and cut off from the rest of the world.

                    All around the house lies a garden, and whilst one can walk as far as they want into the forests in one direction, in the other a great fence blocks the way, and extends in either direction as far as the eye can see. Bruno, bored of his new home and being an explorer at heart, takes off to find out where the fence goes. In time, he comes across a boy much like him sitting on the opposite side of the divide - this is Shmuel, and the relationship that the two boys form across a gulf that is tiny in physical terms but irrevocably vast in other, more dominant ways is the tale at the heart of this book.

                    Knowing that this is a book about the Second World War which starts out set in Germany, we can piece together most of the semi-buried secrets of the novel with relative ease. Where Bruno talks of his new home at 'Out-With', we soon comprehend the place he means; likewise few will struggle to make sense of "the two words Bruno must say" whenever he greets a soldier - similar devices throughout the story keep the truth partially, barely obscured. This is a curious choice by the author; hard to work out whether it is done to keep the reader guessing a little or to convey Bruno's innocence and lack of understanding of what is going on around him. It's probably closer to the latter, although the way in which the narrative (third-person, but privy to the workings of Bruno's mind) attempts to disguise what is really being discussed often feels artificial, sometimes denying the characters convincing, natural speech.

                    Where The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas works extremely well is in its use of the two boys to illustrate the prevailing issues of the wider conflict; Bruno and Shmuel are a microcosm of the barbaric inequality of their society, two essentially very similar children going through very different, although in some ways parallel, experiences. In keeping with the rest of the book, Boyne chooses to present the differences between the two boys solely from Bruno's perspective; they are not a German and a Jew to him, and as such, he can't understand why they are kept apart; why Shmuel, like the others on his side of the fence, wears the eponymous striped pyjamas; or why those, like his father, who are so kind to him, are so cruel to Shmuel.

                    Bruno's innocence and ignorance of the prevailing conditions he lives in have attracted some criticism - as have other aspects of the book - for their historical inaccuracies. There's almost certainly truth in this; a nine year-old German child, especially a son of a high-ranking official, would surely have been thoroughly indoctrinated with the ideologies of the Hitler Youth - and even if he chose not to believe in such things, it seems implausible that Bruno would not be aware of the lines drawn between his people and the Jewish. In defence of the novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is not at its heart a historical record - rather, it is in essence almost a parable, a simplified tale intended to emphasise certain points.

                    However, if we can forgive the novel for overlooking certain details and likelihoods, there are other aspects that weaken the book. The resolution of the story is a strong, effective one that pulls together all the aspects that have gone before into a dramatic conclusion, one which is a apt payoff for the readers' efforts. However, it's all just a little too neat; once the narrative reaches a certain stage, it's as if Boyne engages endgame and steams ahead, barely pausing en route. In the author's apparent keenness to reach the ending and top his novel off with a big-hitting finale, everything just seems a bit too convenient, with all the component parts falling into place in order, paving the way for the denouement to take place. Although this is a short book in any case, and the author never spends excessive lengths of time developing character and plot, this final section feels a fraction contrived. This fits well enough if we see the story as a parable and nothing else, but there's too much novel here as well for this to sit comfortably with the reader.

                    There is an awful lot of good in the novel, though. Bruno is a character who really finds his voice after a shaky first chapter or two, and is surrounded by a convincing, well-written family. Although occasionally frustrating, the way in which the book hints at the surrounding atrocities is an effective one, allowing the majority of the horrors to unfold in the readers' imaginations. The author himself has said that this is both an adult's book and one for children - I think younger readers may get more out of it, although it's an interesting, well-written perspective on a thoroughly-documented subject for readers of all ages - although not without its flaws, it's a worthwhile read, and merits a look alongside other comparable war novels.

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                      19.02.2009 20:03
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                      A powerful novel about the Holocaust

                      I have been fascinated with the Holocaust since my Mum introduced me to The Diary of Anne Frank when I was a teenager. I have continued to read biographies, autobiographies and historical books about the period as I have grown up and into middle age.

                      When The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas came out as a film last year, I hoped to go to see it, but didn't get round to it. So I bought the book recently, which is currently only £3.49 at Amazon UK.

                      It is quite a slim paperback, only 216 pages and can easily be read in a couple of sittings. It is suitable for both children and adults, as each person will take away something from reading this, depending on their level of understanding. Very few things are overt here; a lot of it is suggested.

                      The basic story focuses on a nine-year-old boy called Bruno who lives in Berlin with his parents and older sister. In many ways, he's an ordinary little boy. He likes playing with his friends, he dislikes his sister and he sometimes tires of the rules his parents impose on him.

                      The story is told from Bruno's point of view, so we soon empathise with him. After a happy life in Berlin, the family shortly have to move to a new house in a place Bruno thinks is called Out-With. This is after a visit from an important man Bruno calls the Fury, who visits Bruno's father, who is a Commandant.

                      Now, you can see from that paragraph how a ten-year-old boy and a forty-year-old man would understand this story on different levels. For kids, it is a kind of adventure story about one little boy. To adult readers, it is a tiny part of a huge historical event. For either group, this book has something to say - though not in a preachy way - and will be one you are unlikely to forget easily.

                      After Bruno's family move to Out-With, Bruno becomes very lonely, without his friends around him. While his mother and sister befriend a soldier, Lieutenant Kotler, Bruno feels increasingly isolated and bored. One day, he decides to go exploring and walks along the side of the camp not far from his house.

                      He eventually finds a little boy called Shmuel and after talking for a while, they discover they share the exact same birth date. They become friends and Bruno tries to visit Shmuel as often as he can. But Bruno feels sad that he can never really play with his friend, as although they live close to each other, Bruno lives in a house and Shmuel lives in a camp full of many people, all wearing the same striped pyjamas. Plus, of course, they are separated by a barbed wire fence.

                      Bruno doesn't understand the implications of this and his innocence or ignorance comes out throughout the novel. Shmuel is not so naïve, but he has to live in the camp and sees much worse things than Bruno does, in his nice house with well-off parents and lots of food to eat.

                      While reading this, I was surprised how much it made me think. So much is left unsaid, that you have to fill in quite a few gaps yourself, which I believe is a good thing. There is no explicit violence in the novel, no swearing or anything that would prevent children from reading this, but it is an incredibly powerful piece of writing.

                      I found it very difficult reading the last couple of chapters, as there was an almost unbearable sense of foreboding and I almost didn't dare to keep turning the pages. You just know something is going to happen - and something does - but I hadn't guessed it and it was written so movingly, so beautifully, so powerfully, that it gives me a lump in my throat just thinking about it.

                      I definitely recommend this to everyone. Read it yourself then pass it round your kids. There's an important lesson to learn from this book and the way it does it is superb. Rarely has such an innocent looking paperback been so powerful.

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                        26.01.2009 13:03
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                        A brilliant book that would be a perfect starting point for lessons about the Holocaust

                        I only came accross this book as my nurse had seen the film advertised but couldn't find anywhere to watch it. I saw it in Smith's at the train station and thought I would get it for her and then I could read it on my way home. It only took about three hours to read and tht is one of the reasons I would say it is particularly suitable for 12-15year olds.

                        The story is so deeply tragic, yet told so well you are drawn in and can identify so well with Bruno, the main character. The reason I feel you can identify with him is that we are all (well, most of us if we are honest) self centered to some degree, feeling that we have hardships imposed upon us, yet we cannot imagine the suffering of others less fortunate.

                        The charm of the story is in his unfaltering awe of his father and the total respect the Nazi community seemed to have for Hitler. Bruno just doesn't understand what he is seeing and doesn't even understand the words used, such as Outwith and Fury.

                        It is enormously important that we do not forget the Holocaust, I learnt about it at school, and I hope that my children will too. This book will thoroughly engage children as it is told from the viewpoint of a child, and most children will identify with having a "superior" older sibling and being made to sit upstairs if their parents have visitors etc.

                        My nurse read the book, then watched the film which she said was a total disappointment.

                        Honestly, one of the most charming, moving books I have read for a long long time.

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                      • Product Details

                        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.