The boy in stripped pyjamas

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Author: John Boyne
Genre: Historical / Post modern, Fable
Publication: 5th January 2006

The boy in stripped pyjamas by the Irish writer John Boyne is a Holocaust novel of which 5 million copies have been sold all over the world. It was the best selling book in the year 2007 and 2008 in Spain and has acquired the No.1 position in the New York Times bestseller list as well as in U.K., Ireland and Australia.

The plot of the novel is based on the clandestine friendship between Bruno and Shmuel, two 9 years old boys who share the same birthday and love for exploration and adventure. The interesting thing is that one is the son of a German officer and the other is a Jewish boy residing in the concentration camp. They only share the fence dividing their respective residences.
The story goes on exploring the bond of the boys who come from very different environment. However it ends on very tragic note leaving the reader teary-eyed and expecting for different end to this narrative.

The main characters are obviously the boys. The other characters are Bruno’s stern, unaffectionate father who is a commandant in the German Army, Bruno’s worrisome mother who is concerned about the safety of the children, Bruno’s 12 years old self-involved sister Gretel who Bruno calls a hopeless case, Bruno’s Grandparents, Lieutenant Kurt Kotler, Pavel, the maid Maria, Hitler & his mistress and Herr Liszt.

The representation of the two environments is sublime and effective. Though not in particular detail, the description of the concentration camps through the words of little Shmuel expresses pain. The disappearance (death as it can be assumed by the reader) of his father , the filthy living conditions of the camps, the sickly appearance of Shmuel himself indicates the discrimination and tortures suffered by the Jews from the Nazis.
Similarly, the military environment and the strict regime in which Bruno is forced to live paints the picture of the life of the Officers under Hitler’s command. The frequent visits of junior officers, dinners ( for which the whole family has to get ready) specially arranged for the Führer creates the grave atmosphere of the early 1940s Germany

The author’s wordplay is interesting. Using the childish tongue of Bruno as a tool, the word like Auschwitz is replaced with ‘Out-With’ and the Führer (meaning- leader) becomes the Fury.

Some critics have called this novel a profanation to the history of holocaust. But belonging to the genre of fable, some changes in facts to suit the plot is acceptable. This is not a book about history. But a history inspired fiction which is narrated with the main aim to make the reader feel something ( it can be anger, pain, disgust, hatred, sympathy or even numbness) and not to provide accurate details from the chronicles of the times around the second World war. Moreover the story is about childhood and the innocent friendship. The plot is indirectly narrated through the naive and ignorant boys who know nothing about the contemporary political, social and economic crisis surrounding them.
It is a simple book for readers who are new to War literature. Having a general idea of the world history will be sufficient to engage in this book. To narrate the whole story would not do justice to the novel. So read, it’s not long ( 216 pages, Normal font) but it does hit hard if you catch nuances.
Happy reading 😊

Guest reviewer – Aastha Bhatt

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