From the PIE list: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne (Book n Movie Review)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


The Boy in the Striped PajamasThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas

(Beware... long review on the way!)

This is one of those books that languished in the famous TBR, and would have remained there longer, if not for the fact that suddenly I began to see this title all over the blogosphere last month. And so I picked this one, already well aware of the debate around this book - something about a shocker happening at some point, a genuinely moving perspective vs an outrageously immature narrator. So, I should admit that some of my motivation to read this book was to find out what the whole debate was about, the same way you go to read a controversial article just to know what everyone in Twitter is ranting about. And that probably ended up coloring my reaction to this book as well, or maybe I might have still received the book in the same way. I wanted to review this one right after I read it, but eventually I decided to unconsciously or semi-consciously let my mind dwell on this book and figure out how exactly I felt.

Bruno, a German boy, returns home one day to find his maid, Maria packing his stuff. His mother explains that they are temporarily moving to another house, a fact that saddens Bruno heavily since he will miss all his friends and his big home with so many floors. His parents, his sister, Gretel (who Bruno considers a hopeless case), and their support staff move to their new, much smaller house. Bruno is very disappointed with his new place - especially the lack of friends and the fact that there's not much to explore around. That changes though when he finds a way out to the distant camp that he can see from his window, where he becomes friends with another boy named Shmuel.

Bruno is a nine-year old child. Except, he doesn't act it. He was too innocent for his age, which is fine, because isn't innocence a good thing? Probably, he is too naive and there are kids like that too. So I was fine with accepting that Bruno acts younger than his age, except that there are times he acts too old as well. And that's when it started bothering me. I couldn't make sense of him. Even quirkiness and eccentricity are character attributes, but in this case, it just wasn't that. I didn't feel that the author did a great job with his character. It appeared to me that Bruno was just a tool to move the story along and he behaves differently each time based on how the story should move.

When Bruno moves into his new home, he is very happy that he has a window in his room, but when he looks out through it, he sees a "farm" in the distance with thousands and thousands of people, all wearing the same pajama clothes. But when he asks his parents about it, they are very tight-lipped. His father talks in circles about humans vs non-humans, while his mother is very disapproving. I found it very hard to accept that the two parents who wanted to shield Bruno from the great tragedy outside, would give him the room that provides a free first class ticket to the camp and its inmates. When I watched this on the movie, the camp is shown to be really far away and the inmates inscrutable, which was far more sensible.

Bruno loves exploring. That's what he wants to do when he grows up. And so, he manages to leave his home under the eye of his family and the many soldiers in there, and go exploring, until he reaches the camp where Shmuel, a Jewish boy is sitting, unwatched by anyone. This is clearly the Auschwitz camp. It's never stated directly, but there are plenty of hints pointing in that direction. The two boys begin a hesitant friendship and continue meeting each other at the same place almost every day. It's pretty hard to believe that there is a section of the camp unmonitored by the guards and where the shocker happens.

I have to say - this is a case where I truly enjoyed the movie and didn't like the book at all. For one thing, Bruno acts more his age in the movie. Many of the loose ends are nicely patched in the movie, while in the book, they are left to interpretation and in at least one case, made very ambiguous. I quite enjoy books with open endings, so long as they are presented as meant-to-be-left-unsolved-by-the-author. I did find that a good thing in the book, because we see things through Bruno's eyes who doesn't understand a lot of it, but we try to put things together based on his observations.

In the next paragraph, I drop a spoiler BOMB, so if you plan to read the book some time, I would advise skipping the next paragraph. (I usually don't put up spoilers in my reviews, but in this one case, it was hard to discuss this book without mentioning it.)

***Spoiler starts***
The shocker - I saw it coming very early. Once I knew there was something going to happen, I couldn't imagine anything but that happening. It still felt very sad and disturbing. As I said, it felt very unbelievable that there was a section of the fence that was open, that the two boys kept meeting each other for days without anyone finding about it, and that Shmuel could easily get supplies for Bruno. Still, it's a story. And then Bruno manages to get in, and right at that point, there's a march called. This somehow didn't go with what I'd read about how those going to be killed were chosen. Still, it's possible that exceptions were made or the kids entered the wrong group. I thought the movie again handled this particular scene better - I was able to assume that the selection (of who's going to die) was made and then the boys entered the group before every one was taken to the chambers.

Definitely a lot of assumptions.
***Spoiler ends***

I would be lying though if I didn't say that I was moved by this book. Even if I found the plot highly manipulating and unbelievable, the elements that the author meant to tackle were well presented - especially that kids, who were just beginning to understand the world and who had a totally different lens through which they looked at others and made decisions - kids like Bruno and Shmuel - were still victims of the war in different ways. I appreciated how he showed that their rules for friends is so very different from an adult's. That actually took me back to my war-free school years, when I would have arguments with my parents on who can or cannot be my friend. I basically liked how he put an everyday child into one of history's most tragic event and showed how the child will still remain a child.

But... there's only so much suspending of belief that I can do.

Over the past few weeks, after seeing this book on many blogs, I've read plenty of varying viewpoints. It's a great thing that a book can be discussed this much and raise different sentiments in different people. I did try to accept that this was a book written for a young audience and maybe some tightening was needed. But then I read Number the Stars the very next week, and that made that assumption moot. Besides, I would even question whether this book can be grasped all that well by a young audience, because there are a lot of assumptions made and nothing is told straight - some knowledge of WW2 and the holocaust is needed.

I borrowed this book from the library and rented the movie from Netflix.


17 comments:

Misha said...

I didn't like Bruno from the book at all! On the other hand, I loved the movie version of Bruno. Like you, I found the movie to be better. I was almost near to tears while watching the movie . Number the Stars has been lying on my shelf for a long time - I must read it.

hcmurdoch said...

I have heard that the movie of this book is good, but I had avoided watching it because I didn't love the book. Now I see that lots of people like the movie better so I'll add it to my Netflix list. I had some of the same problems with the book as you did, but I'll tell you that high school students seem to enjoy this book more than adults do. Probably because they wouldn't really get that Bruno's age thing doesn't work, etc

bermudaonion (Kathy) said...

There was definitely manipulation in this book, but it still worked for me.  I did see the twist coming too, but I think it was because I'd heard so much about a twist that I was looking for it.

Athira / Aths said...

The movie was certainly much better. I felt as if the director understood where the book failed and plugged in those gaps nicely. So many of my issues were tackled neatly in the movie. I also loved the extra focus they gave to Bruno's mom.

Athira / Aths said...

After reading the book, I so didn't want to watch the movie either. But the DVD had already arrived home by then, and I felt silly about returning it back unseen. So I watched it and was really glad that I did. A lot of the issues that I had with the book were tackled neatly in the movie. I also loved the extra focus and character development they gave to Bruno's mom.

Athira / Aths said...

I agree - I think all that talk about THE twist had me wondering about it. So very early, I already knew where it would go. So much for non-spoilery hype!

Athira / Aths said...

And the age thing - it's interesting that they aren't bothered by things like that, maybe we judge too much or try too hard.

Marie said...

Aagghhh I hate this book. I can't even be rational about it. It teaches lies about the Holocaust- like that a child could wander around a death camp when anyone under 15 was gassed as soon as they arrive. Like that a son of a Nazi wouldn't know what Jews were, wouldn't have been schooled to hate them from birth, and wouldn't have noticed classmates and neighbors disappearing, and wondering where they went. This book drives me crazy angry. And with all the realy quality literature about the Holocaust that's out there, I don't know why anyone reads this or lends it any credence.

Samantha 1020 said...

Going to admit that I skimmed your review here as this one that has been on my TBR list for awhile now as well.  I haven't seen the movie yet and don't plan to unless I read the book at some point.  I've seen both good and bad reviews of this book and am very interested to see where I will stand at the end.  Thanks for sharing your thoughts on it!

Bibliophilebythesea said...

I listened to the audio book and watched the movie. I loved them both (shocking as they were).

christa @mental foodie said...

I thought this was a book for adult rather than for younger reader. If the younger reader doesn't know anything about WWII, they wouldn't get the ending...

Athira / Aths said...

I agree - that's what I felt too. Nothing is stated directly. There are plenty of implied details, and if one doesn't know about WW2, then it's hard to get it.

Athira / Aths said...

I am glad you enjoyed this book and the movie, Diane! I thought the movie was well done.

Athira / Aths said...

I hope you do read it at some point. Although I was overly disappointed with the book, I really wanted to know what the whole fuss was about. So for that reason, I'm glad I read this book.

Athira / Aths said...

I have to agree - there was just so much manipulation happening in this book that I was pretty upset by the amount of literary license the author took to move the story along. I thought the idea was good - looking from a child's perspective, but the details around it were just so wrong it didn't work for me.

JACK said...

HI THIS BOOK IT INTESTING

JACK said...

NOT
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