“Lines may divide us, but hope will unite us.”
It’s been a long time since a book has seriously affected me, causing me to think about the outcome days later. Sure, I’ve loved the exciting plots of books like Clockwork Angel, and the intensity and enthralling nature of others like The Passage; yet nothing has quite captured my emotions like my most recent read. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, by John Boyne, was so compelling, that my jaw physically dropped as I read the final pages.
I’ve done a bit of researching on the book, as I figured there must be some sort of hype or controversy surrounding the story. I was definitely right on that one. But first, a little on the story itself. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is set on the fringes of the Holocaust, told from the point of view of a 9 year-old boy, Bruno, whose father is a high-ranking SS officer. They move from Berlin to Poland so that his father can take a position at Auschwitz. Bruno is very naive and knows nothing of what occurs in the concentration camp, but notices from his window the people in the striped pyjamas with the matching striped hats. He eventually stumbles across a young boy his same age, Shmuel, sitting on the other side of the fence, and over the course of a year they become good friends despite the fact that they cannot play together; the fence only allows them to converse. I will not divulge how this story ends; only that until the final chapter I did not predict the outcome, and as I read it, the shock and emotion I felt far surpassed that of anything I’ve read recently. And more importantly, it makes you wonder if you are feeling the right emotions, considering the circumstances (for those of you who have read it, you will understand what I mean).
One controversy surrounding the book is that a concentration camp would not have had a boy as young as Shmuel among its population. There was a wild outcry of criticism on this matter, but also counter-arguments and statistics to prove that young male boys did, in fact, exist in concentration camps. Either way, I can only look at this novel from a strict literary standpoint and the fact that it is historical fiction. And looking at it this way, I found the use of Bruno’s point of view and the ages of the boys to be extremely compelling. Whether John Boyne was correct with his history, he creates a phenomenal story that caused one internal debate after another, leaving me thinking about the ending for awhile. And all criticism aside, Boyne not only created a beautiful story of friendship, no matter the costs, but he also solidified the memory of a horrible time in history that should never be forgotten, lest it happen again.
So, critics can negatively analyze Boyne’s intentions and that the theme of innocence contradicts the cruel nature of the Holocaust, thus cushioning the harsh environment to which Bruno was exposed. I looked beyond the criticisms in order to fully immerse myself in the story; and I am very glad I did, because this story easily reminds us that atrocities can happen so easily, and are still happening today.