The Boy in Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a fable which talks of the lives of children in Germany, or rather Nazi Germany. As the story unfolds, Bruno, who is a curious nine-year-old boy tries answering the questions he has about the current political situation in Germany himself. The book is a journey of a friendship between two boys, just on either side of the fence.
John Boyne is an Irish novelist with over fifteen published novels. He wrote A Boy in Striped Pyjamas in 2006 and two years later the book was adapted into a motion picture, directed by Mark Herman. He was a student of Holocaust literature for years before he wrote the novel, and claims to have done years of research in this field. Winner of the Bistro Book of the Year, Irish Book Award, and People’s Choice Book of the Year and nominated for numerous honors, this book comes under the genre of fables or children’s book, which is quite astounding given the fact that it talks of wartime.
The novel is from the point of view of a young boy called Bruno who lives in Berlin during Nazi Germany times. It gives us an insight into the lives of children during the war and how so many children were oblivious as to what was happening around them. Although this book is a work of fiction, and there are factual errors in the book, what the story focuses on is how the lives of children changed drastically even when they had no role in the war.
Bruno, the 9-year-old protagonist of the story lives in oblivion to the happenings around him. For someone who is nine, he asks a lot of questions as he is confused about what goes on outside his world. He mishears Auschwitz as “Out-with” and the Führer “Fury”, which are interesting terms. Auschwitz was the largest Nazi concentration camp built by the Germans exclusively to get rid of the people who came under the Nazi program of cultural and ethnic cleansing (literally throwing “out” people who weren’t of the required race and culture).
On the other hand, the Führer is referred to Hitler, whom Bruno met at his home and thought he was called Fury. This in turn is an interesting misunderstanding as it depicts how even though the child misheard, he was not far off the charts. Bruno learns, later on, to not question everything as it only leads to trouble for him and so decides to do things his way, in secret.
The author wanted to show how even in history’s most heinous act towards humanity, people didn’t stop with their small acts of kindness. Today, it is well-known that a lot of Germans helped Jews by acknowledging their presence and letting them live with them in their houses. For Bruno, to find a friend in ‘Out-with’ had been his aim from the start and he found a friend in Shmuel, on the other side of the fence.
When the author was asked if he thought of ending the story happily, he replied that the intention of the story was never about happiness, it was about the strong connection which the boys felt and their journey. He told that the power of the story lied in the fact that this journey would come to an end.
Reda Aamna is a student pursuing English Literature from Jamia Millia Islamia.
Edited by: Samra Ejaz
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.