The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

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Bruno is a nine-year old boy who lives in Berlin with his mother, father and sister – the Hopeless Case as he likes to call her. One day when he comes back from school he is surprised to learn that the whole family is moving. In fact the reader understands that the father is a Nazi officer and soon realizes, once the family is there, that his new assignment is to be in charge of Auschwitz. After a while, Bruno, who has very little to do, decides to explore his surroundings and befriends another boy his age, Shmuel.

So as not to spoil the story for those willing to read the book I won’t mention how it ends. Suffice to say that it is not a happy ending.

This book is well-written, especially if you read it in English. I reckon that much is lost in translation. Bruno’s mistakes certainly are and I wonder how The Fury (Hitler) and Out-With (Auschwitz) can be rendered in other languages. In addition the language, which is often quite subtle, has a dinstinctingly English flavor; maybe too much so in fact considering the story is set within a German family.

Unfortunately this is not the book’s only flaw. Thus the narrative focuses on Bruno and the different events are seen through his eyes. The problem is that sometimes Bruno is extremely perceptive for a nine-year old – for instance when he becomes aware that the maid has a life of her own – and quite dense also – after a full year in their new house he stil doesn’t recognize that the people who live behind barbed wires are prisoners and he still can’t say the name of the place where he lives.

The book’s main weakness however is the total lack of historical reality. Children aged nine didn’t survive in Auschwitz; they were killed on arrival. What is even less credible is Shmuel’s lack of understanding of the dangerousness of Auschwitz; he is hungry, he is frightened and cautious but doesn’t seem to realize that the people who never come back after work have been killed.

I understand that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas wasn’t meant to be a realistic story but, because of the barbarity of the Holocaust, I find that choosing it as a background was a poor choice.

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11 thoughts on “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

  1. Interesting review! I read an article about this book (as well as the movie) sometime last year on a Jewish website, and the author’s feelings about it were similar to your own, so I decided not to read it myself. Was wondering how others who’d read it felt, though.

  2. The version at our library has “pajamas.”

    “wasn’t meant to be a realistic story but, because of the barbarity of the Holocaust” – which is why I don’t care for the book at all. It belittles the tragedy. It was much worse than the book depicted. Much, much worse.

    Thanks for the review. Interesting to read another’s perspective (you did read that one fast!)

  3. Your review is a good one…and spot on, in my opinion. The book demeans the horrors of the Holocaust, and is so far from reality in every aspect.

    • Thank you Lorri. I read your review and although we didn’t necessarily highlight the same elements we more or less agreed on the biggest and most disturbing flaw of this book.

  4. I have yet to watch the film or read the book. Every time I have thought about it, something has made me turn to another title. Perhaps this the reason why.

    Thank you for your review.

  5. Hear, hear! I totally agree with this review, as I did with the one on Jew Wishes.
    Some authors get away with it, don’t they? They are not stopped, not harassed, not boycotted and become famous ‘in spite of’.
    Stop the world, I want to get off.

    • I suppose he wasn’t criticized much as he always referred to his book as a fantasy (I read this on Jew Wishes’ blog). When you deal with real facts and specific people you are obviously more exposed to criticism. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

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