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The International Writers Magazine - Our Tenth Year: Review

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne
Publisher: David Fickling Books (2006)
ISBN: 978-1862305274
Nick Prescott Review

Set during World War II, John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas sets out to describe the horrors of war and the holocaust through the innocent eyes of a child.

The caption on the front cover reads ‘A story of innocence in a world of ignorance’ and it truly is, telling the touching story of an unlikely friendship at Auschwitz, between Bruno, son of the concentration camps Commandant, and Shmuel, a young Jewish boy on the other side of the barbed wire fence. I found myself immersed from page one as I realised this was a completely unique take on how the holocaust would be viewed from a perspective of naivety and childish misconception.

The story starts in Berlin, when nine year old Bruno discovers that he and his family are to move house far a way from the city. Naturally, Bruno is upset by this and the thought of leaving his friends and the house he loves behind, but has no choice in the matter. He is a character easy to relate to for anyone who remembers being a child and how not getting your own way feels when you are the centre of your own universe. Soon, he arrives at some nameless place in a new home he despises for its lack of exploring potential and soon becomes bored with his life there. The only thing he has found remotely of interest is the view from his bedroom window which looks down open a large fenced of area that stretches as far as the eye can see and is full of huts and smoke stacks in the distance, but perhaps most interestingly of all hundreds of people all dressed in the same striped pyjamas. Bruno learns the name of the place as ‘Out-with’ and they are there for his Father’s new job, appointed to him by a man Bruno has only heard referred to as the fury.

Events are unfolding around Bruno that he has little understanding of; there seems to be a certain atmospheric tension around the place that no one seems willing to talk about or give cause for. Suddenly, in a moment of solitude, he decides to go off exploring along the fence where he has been forbidden to go and comes across a small boy the same size as himself only much skinnier and paler. The two boys introduce themselves to one another and soon a friendship is forged where neither Bruno nor Shmuel can comprehend the events happening around them as Shmuel experiences seemingly endless tragedies and Bruno is feels he is powerless to help him.

John Boyne has managed to craft a beautiful story of innocence and friendship through one of mankind’s darkest moments in history. He addresses the issues in such an accessible way for young readers that this is a must read book for teenagers to learn about events that must never be forgotten. The story has an incredibly authentic feel to it as you see everything from Bruno’s childish perspective; it was as if I was hearing it straight from the mind of a nine year old boy. It’s a story that resonates in modern society about the evils of prejudice and the dangers and tragedies that it can cause; The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a powerful and necessary read.
© Nick Prescott Nov 2009

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