Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas seems to have become popular, perhaps because the movie based on the book recently came out. I like a well-written Holocaust tale, and I had high hopes for this book, especially since there'd been so much hoopla about it.


I did like it. But with reservations. It should be noted that the author calls this "a fable." Some suspension of disbelief is required. Unfortunately I felt like too much of this was required. The ending (which I saw coming from a mile off) strains credulity. I kept trying to tell myself "It's a fable. It's a fable." However, it is a fable based on a real historical time period. So. . .

The story is told from the point of view of nine-year-old Bruno, the son of a Nazi Commandant. In the first chapter Bruno is informed that his whole family is moving from Berlin to "Out-with." Bruno doesn't want to go and he doesn't understand why he has to.

Actually, there is a heck of a lot Bruno does not understand.

Part of the appeal of the story is the way it is told, with the reader knowing what is happening while Bruno remains ignorant. (After time though, this wears thin.)When Bruno reaches "Out-with" he sees a compound in the distance, a place surrounded by barbed wire fences, a place where all of the people wear strange striped pajamas. So, the reader gets it. The reader understands. Bruno, poor Bruno, never does. In time he makes friends with a boy from the compound, a boy in striped pajamas, a boy who is freakishly thin and terribly frightened, a boy almost but not quite as clueless as Bruno. The reader knows, from the start, that this friendship is doomed. There's something beautiful about the Nazi kid and the Holocaust kid becoming dear friends but. . . did I mention the word "doomed?"

It really bugged me that Bruno never got what was going on. Now, granted, the Nazi death camps are a huge thing for a nine-year-old to wrap his head around. Still, it seemed like Bruno was fairly bright in many ways, but when the author needed him to be dim, he was dim. Burned-out lightbulb dim. Perhaps it is unfair to expect any child to understand what a death camp is, but if one is going to get it, wouldn't it be the son of the Commandant?
I still liked the story, though I was hoping it would end differently than it did. Of course I won't give it away here but. . . I really want to. . . no, that would be awful. I won't give it away. I will say I was going along with the book until the end. I absolutely had to know what was going to happen. Was I wrong in my prediction? I had to find out.

Other readers love this book much more than I do, so read it for yourself and judge.

Oh! One final note--and this is really weird---I often felt like I was reading a book by Lemony Snicket as I read this! There was something about the humor (there is some humor to be found, even in a Holocaust tale) that was so reminiscient of Snicket, I wondered if he'd written it under another name. That's probably nuts, but there it is.

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