Monday, May 26, 2008

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

"If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this book isn't a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter such a fence."

This description from the cover flap of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (or in my case, on the cover of the CD) piqued my curiosity, but I was totally unprepared for the drama that lay in store for me. Told from the perspective of the son of a newly-appointed Commandant, young Bruno's voice of innocence permeates this atypical Holocaust story. The story opens with Bruno receiving the news that his family is packing up his beloved house in Berlin to move to an undisclosed location. The servants will only tell him that the sudden move has something to do with his father's important, yet highly secretive, job. Not pleased with the news that he has to leave his three best friends with whom he goes on exploring adventures, or that his "Hopeless Case" sister Gretel is also coming, Bruno contemplates the events in the unfolding days with a quiet seriousness. He is at the same time inquisitive (the explorer in him) and naïve (why do all of the boys, men, and grandfathers who live on the other side of the fence wear gray-striped pajamas? And if his father knew about the horrible huts they lived in, wouldn't he do something about it?) These traits are both endearing, and his downfall.

As the story develops, the reader sees life though the eyes of this young boy. We meet "The Fury" ("he was the rudest guest Bruno had ever witnessed.... he walked directly into the dining room and sat down at the head of the table—in Father's seat!"); and Shmuel, the boy who "happens to be on the other side of the fence" who Bruno finds out with delight, was also forced to leave his home—solidifying the friendship that Bruno longs for. Bruno struggles to make sense of the fence that separates the two of them, wondering why he can't crawl under it to play with Shmuel and the hundreds of other boys that Bruno imagines are happily living there.

It is this desire for the simple pleasures of boyhood friendships that propels Bruno into his final "adventure". The sad ending, as unfortunately inevitable as war, prejudice, and discrimination; hits the reader with bomb-like force. I would recommend it for 7th graders and up, in conjunction with holocaust studies; or, in language arts, to discuss a character's voice. Bruno's distinct but naïve voice is evident in his comments to Shmuel about his clothing, the camp…even about Poland itself. As the book jacket testifies, this is not a book for nine-year-olds. But it is a book that will certainly prompt thought-provoking discussions in the classroom. (Random House, 2006)Technorati Tags:
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Joyce Moyer Hostetter said...

This book has been on my "to read" list for nearly two years! I simply must get ahold of it!

Josette said...

My heart went out to poor Shmuel who was telling Bruno what it's really like in the concentration camp. Bruno, however, was just too ignorant and stupid to get the picture.

This was a really powerful and gripping book. I'm glad I read it. Here's my review of the book! :D

Anonymous said...

I just finished this book. Someone let me borrow it and I absolutely fell in love with it. It's such a page turner and your blog describes the book so well. I couldn't possibly add anything more.

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