The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
by John Boyne
read from 29 November to 4 December 2016
for review with spoilers: see Goodreads
First of all, I want to apologize to my sister who recommended this book to me. Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and I know how awful it feels when someone does not like a book you recommended.
Since August, I’ve decided to rate books more critically. These two stars don’t mean that this novel was awful. It merely means that I thought it was okay, though there were a number of things that bothered me.
I wasn’t a fan of the writing style right from the start. Though the protagonist is only nine years old, this is not a middle grade book. Still, it’s written in a juvenile way: the sentences are very long and lack punctuation, just like a child would speak. This is merely my own preference, but I do not enjoy to read sentences build like that.
Furthermore, I don’t really understand what the author was trying to achieve with this book. It’s not at all educational. Bruno refers to Hitler by saying The Fury instead of Führer, continues to say Outwith instead of Auschwitz, even though he has been corrected multiple times, German words are never used… Nor did it show us the true horrors of the concentration camps. After all, the entire novel is told from Bruno’s point of view, who remains clueless until the very end.
And that’s probably what I disliked about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas most: Bruno didn’t go through any character development. I’m very well aware that he is a child, but after talking for over a year to Schmuel, he still has no idea how difficult his friend’s situation is. All they can do is talk to each other, yet he still doesn’t realize what is going on. Yes, he’s only a child, but there has to be a limit to ignorance. Bruno’s father was a proud Nazi, so I find it very difficult to believe he never talked about Hitler, Jewish people… at home. On top of that, they had Hitler over for dinner one night! Who would risk their child saying something ‘stupid’ then? No, that’s impossible. Bruno grew up around Nazi-soldiers and near Auschwitz, he must have noticed what was going on. I mean, the kid didn’t even know what the word ‘Jew’ meant! While many might argue that Bruno is the epitome of innocence, I’d call him ignorant instead.
Which brings me to the many plot holes. Not to mention how convenient everything was. There were over a million prisoners in Auschwitz, yet Bruno manages to meet someone who was born on the exact same day as him. Bruno knows that the lieutenant shot a dog, yet when people are murdered, he thinks they’re just lying on the ground. The place where Bruno and Schmuel meet, is never once guarded by soldiers. Furthermore, in over one year, they’re never discovered, even though they met almost daily. These camps were not recreational resorts. Children were either murdered or used as labourers. How did no one notice that Schmuel was gone most days? Sure, it’s difficult to keep track of millions of people, but it’s still highly unlikely that this could’ve happened.
Before I read this, I knew Bruno was going to meet a Jewish boy, imprisoned in a concentration camp. To my surprise though, it took quite a while before those two characters met. By then, I was already annoyed with Bruno’s ignorance and was longing for some character development. Ultimately, that didn’t even happen.
Clearly, I didn’t like much about this novel. It just bothers me that this story is told from the point of view of someone who is privileged. To make things worse, he never even realizes how lucky he is. I am convinced I would’ve enjoyed this more if it were written from Schmuel’s POV. Still, there would’ve been a lot of plot holes. I might be wrong (I’m in no way implying to be a World War II expert), but how does one, who has been in a concentration camp for over a year, not realize that those who suddenly disappear, were murdered?
Finally, I want to discuss the ending. Once again, I am no expert, but I find it very unlikely that that could ever happen.
Having said all of this, I still want to watch the movie adaptation. I think I’m going to enjoy that more, since we won’t be inside Bruno’s head as much.
Conclusion: Unfortunately, I didn’t enjoy The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. I didn’t like the writing style, thought there were a lot of plot holes and conveniences and longed for character development.