Thursday, April 09, 2009

book review - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This is one of the books that manages to cross over from teenage fiction into the adult category. Indeed it was a friend who recommended John Boyne's book as something worth reading.

In many respects it takes a reader to come to this with a knowledge of the holocaust for it to work with complete effectiveness. The story of Bruno and his family moving to a concentration camp is full of gaps that an informed reader will fill in. Not just about the reason for his father going to become commander at Auschwitz but also the affair between a young prison guard and Bruno's mother.

But where it works well is the central story about Bruno and his friendship with the boy in the striped pyjamas. Because his parents have told him almost nothing about what is going on - the view of the world with the gaps left unfilled - he makes a fatal mistake based on complete ignorance.

The ending of the book is one that has real power as does the aftermath with a hint that one of Hitler's loyal stormtroopers has become disillusioned by the realisation that what they happily did to millions might have been done to one of their own.

In many ways some of the devices used get tiresome towards the end but if the aim of this is to get a child to ask you as a parent what is happening then getting the chance to answer that question is perhaps valuable in itself. No doubt the film, which I haven't seen, is more expansive and slightly more literal in terms of spelling it out.

Just as with the only other crossover book I have read, The Curious Mark Haddon, this is sometimes too obvious for an adult reader. But it is worth getting through because if nothing else it reminds you of the horrors of history and reinforces the memory which makes it harder for something as horrific as the final solution to happen again.

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