Book Review: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne

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Title: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
Author: John Boyne
Publisher: Vintage Children's Classics (2 August 2012)
Genre: Children's Historical Fiction
Price: Rs. 177 on Amazon
Pages: 256

I bought this book quite a while ago, but it remained unread on my shelf. Also, I'd heard that this book was really high on emotion and that one needed to be in a sound state of mind to read it. The stress at work was so much that I was battling crazy bouts of anxiety. When I felt a little stable, I picked this one. But, nothing in the world could have prepared me for what was coming.

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion, thanks to a visit from 'The Fury', and the family now has to move far far away. His father seems visibly excited about his new powerful position, but the rest of his family is worried. When they finally arrive at the new place called 'Out With', Bruno hates it. The new house is situated on a barren land with nothing around. From the window in his bedroom, he sees a tall fence far away, running along stretches as far as his eye can see. He sees strange people on the other side of the fence, all of them dressed in striped pyjamas.

One day, wanting to make peace with his new environment, Bruno decides to turn explorer and take a closer look at the place he sees from his window. As he walks towards the fence, he sees a boy on the other side. When he introduces himself, the boy in the striped pyjamas introduces himself as Shmuel. Since Bruno has left behind his three best friends, he befriends Shmuel and comes to meet him everyday. Shmuel and Bruno have nothing in common and their circumstances are very different from each other, but, both of them find a common ground in talking about their lives and listening to each other through the fence. Their friendship evolves day after day until one day Bruno decides to cross the fence to help Shmuel find his missing father. Nothing is the same after that.

I have read quite a few books about the Holocaust and Hitler's atrocities. After 'The Book Thief', I never thought I'd experience that level of sadness again, but this one brought back the same emotions in me. It definitely is not an easy read and the ending breaks your heart into a million pieces. It took a few days to get back to being normal again after reading this.

The story in this book is told from the perspective of the nine year old German boy, Bruno. This brings out a perfect level of innocence in the story and also pits it against the evil, the Holocaust. There is a lot of innocence in this book and while it does get to you at times, it sure is justified based on the theme of the book. Bruno's 'Fury' is actually the 'F├╝hrer' aka Hitler and 'Out With' is actually 'Auschwitz', the Nazi concentration camp. There is nothing deep being spoken about the camp and the details of war, and the book mainly focuses on the friendship between the two nine year old boys who share the same birthday. While I expected the ending to be poignant, I did not expect it to happen the way it did. Heart-wrenching to say the least.

The writing is simple and vivid and does paint a decent picture. The words tug your heart and even though there is a sense of impending doom, you go on reading. Is this the best book on the war and Nazis? It is one among the best I'd say. 'The Book Thief', 'The Guernsey Literary And Potato Peel Pie Society', 'The Nightingale', 'Salt To The Sea' and now this one, all of them excel in their own way. This book hits you harder because it talks about the effect of war on innocent children. It did remind me a lot of the movie 'Life Is Beautiful', and I'm looking forward to watch the movie based on this book too.

Verdict: Highly emotional and can leave you with a sense of hopelessness. Yet, it sure is a must read. Do ensure to be in a strong state of mind before picking this one up.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.

18 comments:

  1. I have known about this book being a gem from the Goodreads reviews. I have been wanting to read this book for a while but cannot trust myself with the emotional bits. Perhaps I must.

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    1. Wait until you are better emotionally. Then go for it. It sure is a must read.

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  2. That sounds like a really poignant but beautiful book. I hope to read it soon but yes, I've to be prepared to deal with the sadness.

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    1. It is a beautiful book, no doubt. But will leave you with a sense of hopelessness.

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  3. You captured exactly what I felt when I read the book Soumya. It was gut wrenching. Nothing prepared me for the ending and I couldn't gather the courage to watch the film. This is one of the few books that actually made me cry, not even The Book Thief did that.

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    1. Book the books made me cry, this one more so because of the level of innocence in it.

      I'll wait a while to watch the movie.

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  4. Your verdict is spot on, Soumya!
    I read this book some days after I lost CHikoo. I was so curious as to what story lay within its pages that I grabbed it the first chance I got. And, so true, it left me feeling so broken, so full of hopelessness, just the way I felt after reading The Book Thief. And, you know, some months later, I also saw the film. Good Lord! The last scenes were heart-breaking! I mean, the question that keeps on haunting me, is what did that man achieve at the end of it all? So many innocent lives lost for the madness of one man, who had god-knows-what in his mind! Some time later, I also saw Schindler's list on Netflix, and I just sobbed--for all the three stories revolving around the same theme, for the people who could have lived happily had they been left alone, for what the world has come to!

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    1. I'm giving myself some time to watch the movie, not any time soon I'm sure.

      Seriously, movies/books on the Holocaust break something within you permanently.

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  5. I absolutely loved this book for the reasons you mentioned and the movie is also very well made. Watched it on Netflix in the US and the ending is absolutely gut-wrenching. Steel yourself before you watch.

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    1. I'm sure the movie is good, but I'm giving some time before I get to it.

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  6. I haven't read it as yet but would definitely want to. Perhaps at a time when I can brace myself for the heart break. Thanks for the review, Soumya. Recently watched The Book Thief movie too and loved it.

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    1. Do read it when you have a sound mind, Rachna. It sure is worth it.

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  7. If the ending is that poignant I will take my time with this one. I don't handle emotional books well. Still remember how devastated I was after reading the Book Thief. As always, enjoyed reading your review.

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  8. I loved this book and I need to watch the movie. Your post calls out exactly why I also loved the book and the emotions it brings out. Salt to the Sea is one of my favorite too.

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    1. I need to watch it too. I need sometime to get over the book though.

      Salt to the Sea was fabulous!

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  9. Soumya, I loved this book too. And the main thing is the fact that the writing is simple, yet manages to create such vivid images in ones mind. Oh and yes, I am still to read Guernsey Literary..... Must pick it up.

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    1. Oh yes, simple and vivid!

      Do read Guernsey, you will love it :)

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