Friday, August 31, 2007

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

My friend Lou rang me this morning to ask if I had finished this book yet, as she just had and was reeling from its conclusion. I spent time doing so today and have just finished. (We are reading it for the book club we attend once a month.) It is classed as 'young adult' fiction, and is a very powerful story. As I reached the last chapter I had an inkling of how it was going to end, but was madly wishing it wouldn't. I won't tell you anymore, just in case you pick it up to read.
The following is part of a review written in 'the Age' newspaper about the book last year:
Irish writer John Boyne's fourth novel is the first he has written for children. It's a touching tale of an odd friendship between two boys in horrendous circumstances and a reminder of man's capacity for inhumanity.
Bruno is a nine-year-old boy growing up in Berlin during World War II. He lives in a five-storey house with servants, his mother and father and 12-year-old sister, Gretel. His father wears a fancy uniform and they have just been visited by a very important personage called the Fury, a pun which adult readers should have no trouble deciphering. As a consequence of this visit, Bruno's father gets a new uniform, his title changes to Commandment and, to Bruno's chagrin, they find themselves moving to a new home at a place called Out-With.
When Bruno gets there he is immediately homesick. He has left his school, his three best friends, his house, his grandparents and the bustling street life of urban Berlin with its cafes, fruit and veg stalls, and Saturday jostle. His new home is smaller, full of soldiers and there is no one to play with. From his bedroom window, however, he notices a town of people dressed in striped pyjamas separated from him by a wire fence. When he asks his father who those people are, he responds that they aren't really people.
Bruno is forbidden to explore but boredom, isolation and sheer curiosity become too much for him. One day, he follows the wire fence cordoning off the area where these people live from his house. He spots a dot in the distance on the other side of the fence and as he gets closer, he sees it's a boy. Excited by the prospect of a friend, Bruno introduces himself. The Jewish boy's name is Shmuel. Almost every day, they meet at the same spot and talk. Eventually, for a variety of reasons, Bruno decides to climb under the fence and explore Shmuel's world.
Bruno's friendship with Shmuel is rendered with neat awareness of the paradoxes between children's naive egocentricity, their innate concept of fairness, familial loyalty and obliviousness to the social conventions of discrimination. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is subtitled A Fable and, as in other modern fables such as Antoine de St Exupery's The Little Prince, Boyne uses Bruno to reveal the flaws in an adult world.

2 comments:

Priscilla said...

It sounds fascinating. It sounds like it could be a very emotional read...maybe I'll check it out some day.

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