25 May 2010

Our Hell is the Good Life

#17 The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Bruno is a 9 year old boy living in Berlin during WWII. His father is a high ranking commander in the Reich and their family is sent to Auschwitz as part of his father's promotion.

Bruno is absolutely clueless to the goings on at Auschwitz, which is something I found hard to believe as I read the book. I'm pretty sure that if his father was a high ranking Nazi official, Bruno would be a member of the Hitler Youth and waving his little flag around. But Boyne decides to take the optimistic route in believing that a boy of Bruno's age would be completely oblivious to the hatred against Jews. A noble, but ignorant route. From the window in his new house at Auschwitz, Bruno can see the camp and is jealous that the children there are able to play with each other, yet he is all alone and left only with his bratty older sister as a companion. He's also curious as to why they're all wearing the same striped "pajamas."

Other officers are constantly going in and out of his house and Bruno realizes that they aren't nice people.

And so one day, Bruno decides to go on an adventure. He walks along the fencing of the concentration camp and eventually meets a boy the same exact age he is (they even share the same birthday), named Schmuel. Schmuel is (understandably) sad and scared and starving. Bruno can't grasp why Schmuel would be hungry and sad. Bruno continues to visit Schmuel. For Bruno, visiting Schmuel is a reprieve from his boredom. He tries to bring Schmuel food, but sometimes gets hungry on the way to visiting him and eats all the food.

I could only shake my head as I continued to read the book. The situation didn't seem plausible to me. I understand that the book is meant for "young adult" readers as a way to educate them on the Holocaust and provide a young boy's point of view, but... no. I just couldn't imagine Bruno as a Nazi officer's son who was neutral to the Jews. Solely from his social standing, I pictured Bruno as the little shithead who would point his finger at his Jewish classmates and start trouble against them.

I couldn't feel an ounce of remorse for Bruno when I knew that outside of his window were thousands of starving Jews who were being dehumanized and denigrated. He complained and complained and I wanted to slap him.

The book wasn't poorly or well written. It's just a book meant more to educate than wow the reader with its prose. Quick read, wouldn't particularly recommend. Read Anne Frank or Elie Wiesel instead if you want an account of WWII/the Holocaust.

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