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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas


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Hazel 2nd February 2006 12:51 PM


Blurb from Amazon -


This work was set in Berlin, 1942. When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance. But, Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than what meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.




I am in two minds whether I liked this book ar not. On the plus side, it is a fascinating story and the true horror of the concentration camps is brought to you on a very personal and terrifying level. It makes you see it from the wyes of a child which most holocaust novels fail to do. This makes the events all the more unbearable. The ending is truly a horrific one and one that although you see it coming, doesn't fail to make your mouth fall open.


On the con side, sometimes the writing is a little bit immature, even though the novel is aimed at young teens and possibly a crossover to adults. Sometimes it gets a bit twee. And the style is very reminiscent of Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now - a little too similar to be considered 'novel'.


Still, it is a great story and a great alternative to Anne Frank, if we want to bring the story of the holocaust to young people.




lipstick_librarian 3rd February 2006 02:23 PM


I just finished this yesterday and I still can't decide whether I liked it or not. I was gripped right until the last few pages when the ending became glaringly inevitable. Even though it looks and reads like a children's book, the author does assume a certain amount of reader knowledge about Auschwitz, Nazi Germany and the Holocaust. I don't think kids who hadn't already studied this at school would 'get' what was going on at all, and as a School Librarian I would try to encourage kids to wait.

This didn't stop me from blubbing at the end however. Boyne has a style similar to David Almond's I think - very spare while conveying a strong sense of place and character using a child's voice. He doesn't need to go into details to convey the despair and sorrow of Shmuel. It is Bruno's childish observations and comparisons that illuminate the horrors.

But did I like it or not? Hmmm...nowhere near as much as I liked How I Live Now or The Curious Incident, but it's definitely had an impact, and it's a very useful book to have around to support the Holocaust within the National Curriculum.




Hazel 3rd February 2006 03:34 PM


I liked Bruno's mishearings for the Fuhrer (the Fury) and Out With (Auschwitz), a childish thing to think and instantly creates a wry humour as we as readers look at the immaturity of Bruno. Also, adds to the illustration of the social divide between Germans and Jews, in that Bruno has no idea really what these terms are and doesn't even realise what Auschwitz and 'those people' are. His terms also relate heavily to the entity they are depicting. They were a clever little device.




Flingo 2nd April 2006 02:00 PM


Wow! I don't really know what to say about this. What a powerful novel!


I agree with lipstick_librarian - I guesed where it was going long before we got there. I didn't cry, but I can't remmber feeling a bigger sense of foreboding from a book in a long time.


Bruno's mishearings were inspired, although I kept thinking "But he wouldn't relate it like that - he's speaking German, not English"!


I would have liked to know more about Bruno's family too (Why is Gretel a "Hopeless Case"?).


Despite these reservations, I read this is one sitting yesterday, and couldn't leave it for more than a few minutes without wanting to go back to it.


An article in The Bookseller quotes John Boyne saying that he wrote it in one sitting too - he started on a Wendesday and finished on Friday lunch time. He also tested it on his 12 year old nephew before sending it out to anyone, and that helped him guage what extra details to add in on the later drafts.


As I say in my opening sentence this is powerful stuff.




Hazel 11th April 2006 06:40 PM


Bruno's mishearings were inspired, although I kept thinking "But he wouldn't relate it like that - he's speaking German, not English"!


I think with his English appropriations we are supposed to surmise that as with everything the Germans were afforded every luxury, right and privilege. And with that entails a proper education - which means that Bruno may have been multilingual, though obviously his inner thoughts are his mother tongue. However, I am sure Hitler and cohorts would not have encouraged anything but German to be used and taught - especially a German perspective of history - so I agree Flingo it doesn't really tie up. Maybe English was a tolerated lingua franca to converse with their many POWs. I guess someone with knowledge in this area would enlighten us!


I also agree that the plot was pretty powerful stuff especially in a 'children's' book - but children can cope with the dark side of life alot better than we adults think!


What did you think of the writing though? Have you read Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now? Did you think it compared?


Despite my misgivings of this book, I have kept it on my bookshelves curiously.



Flingo 14th April 2006 07:29 PM


What did you think of the writing though? Have you read Meg Rosoff's How I Live Now? Did you think it compared?


I agree that the writing was very strong - and Boyne's voice clearly came through as his inner child! Bruno was quite impetuous, even in his head!


I have read How I Live Now*, but wasn't sure that that lived up to the hype. I read it before it was published, and although I remember some of Daisy's (?) tale, much of it is very vague. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is much stronger and I think will stay with me for longer.


*Interestingly, I see there is no thread for Rosoff, despite quite a few mentions elsewhere, so I will go and start one!



belwebb 16th June 2006 05:35 PM


I read this about a month ago. The cover is the distinctive blue and white stripe print of pyjamas. The back cover states that, whilst it is a story of a young boy, it is, apparently, a book for adults. I would disagree and say it was suitable for all age groups. Despite Boyne being an Irish writer this book is about the holocaust. It's a deceptively simple story with a sting in the tail. Can be read in a few hours. Recommended.



Flingo 16th June 2006 06:56 PM


The cover states does not say it is a book for adults, but that it is not a books "for nine year olds". We have it in our 11Up collection at work, and I agree with that. A younger child wouldn't get the concentration camp connections.



katrina 6th July 2006 09:51 PM


I also read this novel in one sitting, I went out and brought it straight after getting home from work, one of the pupils had had to read part of this today to me and had described the story, her reading and description of it inspired the purchase. I have to say she is 12 and she said she thought the place over the fence was a concentration camp, apparently they haven't studied ww2 yet, so I'm also guessing she wouldn't have understood Out-With and The Fury. Although a second child was also supposed to be reading this book and he's in the top 5 in his year, and his response was - why would I want to read about a 9 year old called Bruno! He usually only reads things like the Divinci Code apparently!


I thought that the cover was one of the most poweful hins, esp the blurb on the inside cover. The writing was kept simple which made it powerful, I have recently finished How I Live Now and I can't say I linked the writing styles myself. I thought this was a good way of bringing the horror of the concentration camps to kids, but it did assume a knowledge of this piece of history, which I don't think is taught till Year 8 or 9 in any depth.


From the kids books I'm reading lately it seems the Harry Potter, kids book with adults in mind, is becoming more popular (JKRowling hit on that at first by mistake, now its aimed at), I wonder if that effects the subjects chosen for authors to read about. Personally I enjoy reading kids books but I do wonder if it has an effect, kids get the surface level, adults delve deeper. I reckon this book will end up a Keystage 3 reader for most schools, I definately will read it to my form group at some point.

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This was the subject of my RL book club last night as well. I was pleased that it was very successful!


On the con side, sometimes the writing is a little bit immature, even though the novel is aimed at young teens and possibly a crossover to adults. Sometimes it gets a bit twee.


We had a debate about the naievety of Bruno - was he a product of his time, or was he too naive and innocent for even a 9 year old in the 1940's? We think there may have been an element of both, but that it is likely that children then were more innocent than we might expect.

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  • 5 months later...

I actually found this book quite difficult to get into and I think that was mostly because of the narrators point of view. It took me about three chapters before I felt comfortable with Bruno's narrative. At first I thought he must be suffering from something like Aspergers. His repetition of adult phrases, such as 'hopeless case' reminded me of a couple of children I know with Aspergers. And yet Schmuel seems just as unwordly as Bruno in not understanding his situation. But after reading your posting Flingo, I believe you are correct in assuming that nine-year-olds in the early 1940s would have been naive, as compared to today's nine-year-olds. I am thinking here of what I was like as a nine-year-old in the late 1940s and to be honest a lot of us were not worldly wise then. Nevertheless, whilst reading the book, I was convinced that Bruno was a little different.


Having said all that, I stuck with the book. I guessed the end but was always expecting some twist to prove me wrong. It brought home in a profound way what the holocaust meant, the awfulness of it all and the dreadful attitude of the Nazis.


I suppose, like The Book Thief, this would be another way for young people to try to understand what the holocaust entailed. There is a lot to consider here, including the attitude of Bruno's father, Lieutenant Kotler, the maid Maria, the old man who prepares the vegetables and how a lot of people seemed to have no choices at that time. I thought calling Hitler, Fury, was a clever way of portraying that deranged and seeming always angry personage with that name.


There was a lot to like about this book, but at the same time I was always a little annoyed about the writing style.

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  • 2 months later...

I have just finished reading this book for my RL bookgroup, and have conflicting thoughts about it.


Firstly, about the target readership, I agreed with Hazel that as a book for young teens or as a crossover book the writing is immature. I think that is because of the age of the main character, and the events being seen through his eyes. I don't think that he is particularly naive for a nine year old at that time, but I would have thought that a young teen reading this would find the majority of the book rather juvenile. I thought that children preferred books with characters slightly older than themselves.


I found it really difficult to 'forget' things that I know and to see them through a child's eyes. I'm sure that the use of 'Fury' and 'Out-With' works well for a non-German speaker, but like Flingo my reaction was -'he is speaking German, so there wouldn't be any similarities in the sounds of Führer and Wut', (the German for 'fury'). Ditto Out-With. I don't agree with Hazel that he is multi-lingual, Gretel, at 12 has only just learned a few phrases of French.

As for her being 'A Hopeless Case', that irritated to, but I think it was supposed to be the phrase that Bruno and his friends used about her. (It brought William Brown and his gang to mind, they also applied odd nicknames to older sisters and adults)


There were also several continuity, and other minor errors that bothered me, too, but mostly I was distracted by a fairly important feature of the plot; The fence. Firstly, there is no way that the bottom of the fence would not be fixed, and if there was a weak area, it is too coincidental to my adult mind that Bruno and Shmuel should meet just there. But mostly - this wouldn't have been a bit of chicken wire that could be lifted by a starving child, Auschwitz was surrounded by electrified barbed wire.


However, those considerations aside it is a powerful story, and I couldn't help but catch my breath when Bruno climbed under the fence. My imagination then ran ahead of the book to the obvious conclusion. Obvious to me, that is. I guess this is going to be one of those endings that a child will remember well into adult life.


I did like the way the final moments that Bruno and Shmuel had together were left entirely to the readers imagination, as also was the punishment Bruno saw meted out to Pavel by Lieutenant Kotler. It isn't commented on, but I don't think that Pavel appears in the book again,

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We discussed this book at my RL bookgroup last week.

One person hadn't read it, so we didn't directly refer to the fate of Bruno, but as with the book itself it really isn't necessary (at least with adults) to go into specifics.

We covered the points I mentioned in my previous post, and had some good discussion, particularly about the age of the target readership, but all in all they were completely blown away by it and thought it was a very powerful book.

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  • 1 year later...

I received this book for Christmas and was aware of a recent film, but haven't seen it.


The book tells nine-year old Bruno's story. Bruno's family has to leave wartime Berlin for the country. Bruno doesn't understand why and no satisfactory explanation comes from either of his parents or his twelve year old sister. All he knows is that it happens straight after the "Fury" visited his house for dinner and that the "Fury" has big things in store for his father. He understands that his father is a soldier and that they are all proud of his new uniform, but not that he is a Nazi. He parrots the Nazi salute, but thinks that it is merely a greeting. He thinks their new house is called "Out With" and doesn't understand that either. Eventually, he decides to explore the area and having seen people behind wire in the distance, decides to follow the wire fence round. He meets and befriends Shmuel, who is behind the wire. Bruno's character is sympathetic, although he lack of comprehension of Shmuel's situation leads to some blackly comic moments: he realises he is hungry, so steals food from the kitchen, but often eats it on his way to meet Shmuel as the walk makes him feel "peckish".


The story is told from Bruno's point of view, but in the third person which worked really well for me. I liked the way he capitalises instructions from adults and doesn't understand why they don't apply to them in the same way as they do to him: his father's office is somewhere Not To Be Entered Under Any Circumstances and No Exceptions Ever. I felt the author found a delicate balance between the horror of the reader's knowledge of where Bruno is and what is happening in the Lager and Bruno's innocence. Bruno's lack of comprehension as a child felt like a good metaphor for our lack of comprehension of the level of cruelty and evil carried out during those years.


I'm going to put in a massive spoiler here, so please don't read it if you think you might read the book as it is a perfect twist in the tale.



At the end of the story, Bruno's mother persuades father that the family should return to Berlin. Bruno and Shmuel agree on an adventure to mark his departure and they agree that Bruno will crawl under the wire, disguised in the camp uniform and that they will search together for Shmuel's recently disappeared father. They are gathered up by the guards with a group of others and end up in the gas chamber. The horror of this ending, the two little boys clutching each other's hands, not understanding what is happening, but realising the strength of their friendship is incredibly strong, although it sounds almost corny the way I have described it here. As a reader, I was torn between the tragedy of the death of the children and a guilty enjoyment of the father eventually realising what has happened and being driven mad by his understanding of what it feels like to lose someone in that way.



It was a short book with the spare prose working well: a story which will stay behind for a long time.



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ZebraMc, I have merged your thread with this one already underway in the CYA section.


I saw the film just before Christmas and felt that it lacked the innocence of Bruno's viewpoint. We saw it through knowing, adult eyes.

There was a satisfying silence at the end, which continued as the theatre emptied.

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  • 6 months later...

What a fantastic novel. Some have mocked its simplicity, but we must remember this story is seen through Bruno's eyes - innocent and naive. It isn't a particularly re-readable novel as once you are aware of the ending the story is not as effective.The film is also fantastic - well worth a read and a watch!

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  • 1 month later...

I enjoyed this book (kinda) although it took me a while to get into it. I too thought the narrative style irritating and Bruno and Gretel came over as a bit thick. I just couldn't imagine any 12 year old mistaking the camp for "the countryside"


Very effective ending.

I guessed what what likely to happen when Gretel announced she had nits and Bruno had his head shaven.


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  • 11 years later...

I finished this yesterday as an audio book and after the book there was an interview with Boyne and his publisher. John Boyne said that the naivety of Bruno is partly because he wanted to create polar opposites from the pure evil of the Holocaust with the innocence of a child. Initially I was concerned by Bruno's lack of knowledge of things going on around him but then the more I thought about my childhood in the 60's and things that happened in my family that I only became properly aware of when I was older. But in contrast with that I did have a recurring nightmare as a child about nuclear destruction so I was obviously aware of that from the news or adults talking 'over' me. I think it's easy to see Bruno as naive but children have a great capacity to know but ignore things. Things they don't quite understand or don't want to deal with. 


John Boyne also explained the 'outwith' name for Auschwitz. He said Auschwitz is deliberately not named at all in the book tho we know that is where it is set. He wanted it to be about any such place then or now. He didn't talk about the English/German aspect of the word and for me criticism of that is being extremely picky. I liked the word outwith, it enhanced the aspect of others, of difference, it had a feel of the old meaning of outlaw, as in out side (with) the law.


Boyne also talked about one of the main themes of the book is complacency. How ordinary people in Germany and Poland were aware of some of the aspects of camps but chose to do nothing about it. In the same way that some countries did more to save their Jewish populations from the Germans than others. He talked about how the prisoners would be marched through the local towns and the population would have seen their condition, they would have smelt the burning of flesh in the air but chose to do nothing. When Hitler and the Nazis started their campaign against the Jews the vast majority of German people did nothing. In the same way in the UK when UKIP and the far right elements of the Conservatives and the right wing press in papers such as the Mail and Express started their campaign against refugees and benefit claimants a large part of the UK accepted this propaganda and was one of the reasons they voted for Brexit and still vote for the Conservatives instead of the other parties even though they, the Conservatives, have been in power for over ten years now and responsible for many of the ills of the nation. As Edmund Burke said, "The only thing for necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."   


I enjoyed this book, I liked the repetition of phrases from Bruno, we as adults in company of friends have, for periods of time, certain words of phrases we repeat often because they are connections, triggers to some collective happening that when spoken they make us laugh or recoil in a group way. Internally I'm sure as a young child we will pick up on phrases and use them over and over. Like when a child learns a new word.  


Boyne created a window, like Bruno's, one where from a distance we could look upon the less fortunate, the condemned, the others, the 'outwith'. He allowed us to think about how mankind is easily led, believing all that is wrong in the world is because of the others whilst completely ignoring that the people causing the harm in the world are the ones telling us it is this or that group that is to blame. 


He said this a book, it's not a children's book or a young adults or an adults book, it's a book. And in my opinion a very good one. 

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