Boy in the Striped Pyjamas – John Boyne

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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a simple, but powerful story of the friendship between two boys. It is told through the eyes of nine-year-old Bruno, who is forced to leave his childhood home in Berlin, and live next to a concentration camp in Poland. He forms a friendship with Shmuel, a young Jewish boy, who by coincidence was born on the same day as him. By talking through the fence, Shmuel slowly explains the horrors of the war to Bruno.

I think that this is the most distressing story about WWII I have ever read. There are no graphic descriptions, it is all left up to your imagination, and it is this that makes it so harrowing. Everything is seen through Bruno’s eyes, and so I built up a very strong connection with him. Bruno fails to comprehend the situation around him, and his suggestions about how things could be improved are incredibly touching.

The writing is easily accessible, and feels realistically like that of a child. The happy innocence of Bruno’s childhood is a beautiful thing. I loved the way that his parents tried to shelter him from the war, but am not sure that this was realistically possible. Surely a nine-year-old boy living in Berlin would have had Nazi opinions forced onto him in school? There were certain other aspects of the book that didn’t ring true, I won’t go into them, as I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t read the book. I’m willing to overlook them, as the message of the book is more important than a few details.

This book made me smile, it almost made me cry, and then it shocked me, and left the plot running over and over again in my head. I think it will be a very long time before the characters in this book begin to fade. This book has gone straight to the top of my ‘books everyone must read’ list. This isn’t because it is the best book in the world, but because it is so accessible to everyone, and is the most powerful anti-war message I’ve found.

Highly recommended, but have some tissues handy.

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  1. Beth F says:

    I put this one on my MP3 player a week or so ago. I’ll be getting to it soon.

  2. Diane says:

    Wow>> great review. I have to get to this one :)

  3. Molly says:

    This book has been on my TBR list for a while. I just have such a hard time reading about this subject matter, as it is incomprehensible to me that humans have the capacity to be so evil. I am glad to hear that it is not graphic at all – and I think I would enjoy hearing things from Bruno’s point of view. Thank you for a lovely review.

  4. Sandy says:

    If I can ever dig myself out of Voyager and GWTW, I will get this one. I have read so much about it, and it would qualify for my WWII reading challenge!

  5. Simon S says:

    This is an absolutely wonderful book and I couldnt agree with you more (the film made me cry but dont tell anyone – and was almost as good as the book) this and The Book Theif are two crossover books that I would recommend to anyone on a difficult subject. Wonderful wonderful book. Can you tell I loved it?

  6. softdrink says:

    Have you seen the movie? You’ll need tissues for that, as well.

  7. No – I haven’t seen it yet. I didn’t see how it could be anywhere near as good as the book – but it looks as though I’m wrong, as the reviews are excellent. I’ll get it as soon as it comes out on DVD, and let you know what I think.

  8. Judy says:

    Like Simon 5 I read this book after The Book Thief. Bruno’s innocence constrasts starkly with the immorality of his environment. His view on life led me to reflect on the way in which we see life from an adult perspective and so often fail to acknowledge how the world might appear to children with whom we come into contact. Life was so much simpler in the first ten years!!

  9. I loved this book! I read it last year, but it is one that stays with you.

  10. Jeremy Dixon says:

    Yes a good story. But it just wouldn;t have happened, very implausable for a little boy to go right up close to the wire of a concentration cam (Auschwitz) and talk to another small boy and the guards see nothing, for its accuracy I didn’t like it. As a story a good one. I saw the film and found it disappointing as the book

  11. Jackie says:

    Jeremy – I agree that it is not likely to have happened, but it is such a good story that I’m willing to accept this. A lot of great books are not based on fact and are still really enjoyable.

  12. Geraldine says:

    I also read this after The Book Thief. I found the BT to be the best book I have read about WW2. I found it fascinating to read how the war affect the ordinary people living in Germany. So often books focus on the atrocities suffered by other nationalities, but of course innocent Germans lived in poverty and danger everyday throughout the war as well. I loved the way the story was woven and that book really haunted me for a long time.

    The B in the S PJs was an interesting read for me as it was told by someone so close to a person who believed in the Nazi cause. I agree that I don’t think it would have actually have been possible for a child to have been totally sheltered from the politics of the time.

    I found the end (won’t spoil it!) simple and stunning. A great quick read!

    1. Jackie says:

      Geraline, I thought both books were fantastic. For me BitSP has the edge, simply because the ending was so powerful, but I’d recommend both books to anyone.

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