Al Bità's Reviews > The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
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's review
Mar 17, 2009

did not like it
Read in March, 2009

There is nothing to learn from this book. There is much to dislike. From certain perspectives, it can even be said to be detestable.

First of all, there is the authorial conceit that the work is written from the perspective of a child. The worst example of this come in the use of euphemisms for the Fuhrer ('the Fury') and for Auschwitz ('Out With') which become increasingly irritating as the work progresses. Bruno's 'difficulty' with these words is somehow supposed to charm us, and apparently gives the reader 'in the know' a soft, patronising glow which is presumably there to create a certain kind of sympathy for Bruno. It is interesting to note that Bruno apparently had no difficulty with the Boy in the Striped Pyjamas's name of Schmuel (maybe he could have referred to him as the 'mule'?). The same tweeness is in the description of the prison garb as 'striped pyjamas', ahtough that is less irritating. It is really pushing the envelope to assume that Bruno is as naive as depicted. At age 8/9 he would have been in school, and subject to the indoctrination of the Hitler Youth; and he certainly would have been fully aware of not only Hitler, but how to pronounce Fuhrer!

Indeed, it is this apparent ignorance of even the most basic things about Hitler's Germany, and it's attitude to Jews, that would have been brainwashed into the minds of German Youth, that is hardest to come to grips with. The author's 'childlike' writing permits him to draw several obscuring veils over the whole question. Even at the end, as Bruno and Schmuel go hand in hand into the 'darkness' and 'disappear' there is really nothing to indicate what happened to them. A child reading this, without any awareness of the horrors of Auschwitz, could be forgiven for believing simply that they 'disappeared' into some mysterious unknown. Thus despite its cutesy language, the book is obviously intended to be read by adults who presumably DO know what happened to them; and that fact alone makes the writing condescending and patronising to say the least.

Since the reader is presumed to know these things, they will also know that the situation described in the book could never have happened. There is sufficient doubt whether any 8/9 year-old child would have ever survived past the first few hours at Auschwitz, except as possible 'medical experiment' subjects; it is hard to believe that Schmuel could have consistently been able to meet Bruno for the period of a whole year without being discovered and dealt with; and in any case, would he really have had access to a depot where other 'striped pyjamas of Bruno's size were stored?... And, by the way, isn't it lucky that Schmuel speaks German. Had he been from some other country and spoken a different language, who knows how the story might have gone?

These are just some of the many irritations to be found in the book. The author has tried to justify it by arguing that the story is a fable, and that these things don't matter. But if it is a fable, then fables usually teach a moral of some kind. What is the moral in this story? Don't trust in the friendship of Jews? Innocence and ignorance is no protection for awful things to happen to you? The fact that people feel saddened by the ending, or even shocked by it, is even more repellent: the sadness seems to be reserved for poor, innocent, ignorant Bruno, who goes to his death still innocent, and still ignorant. Because of the 'hiding' of the reality of the Auschwitz atrocities, the whole situation regarding Schmuel and the other victims seems to disappear, just as Schmuel and Bruno do. Sad, isn't it?

I cannot help but feel deep repulsion towards this 'fable'. That such a deeply offensive approach is somehow apparently easily disregarded because of a twee authorial trick of using sweet, sugary language, and helps make it such a popular, 'safe' book (no nasties crawling about here!) makes me despair at the dulling of any critical facilities or acumen on behalf of the public who love it. The book is inane, badly written, historically inaccurate, lacking in any sense of moral teaching (no one in the book 'learns' anything, or even changes their attitude to anything) and is hardly inspiring. It is banal.
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03/10/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-10 of 10) (10 new)

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Wayne A well-deserved nitpick of a truly irritating book.
Already being referred to as a classic.
If only Anna Frank was around to comment on it.
But you have done it very well.
keep 'em coming!!!1

message 2: by Kim (new) - rated it 1 star

Kim Crowley I totally agree with you.

We're reading it in my english class and it is so bad. Bruno is so naive and self centred. also if he was 9 years old he should be able to pronounce all of the words and spell correctly and all of that. seriously it is really badly written too and boring.

message 3: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Mcdermott Hi there

I noticed you have some strong views about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, which makes you an ideal person for me to ask if you would you like to put a question to John Boyne himself about his book? BBC World Book Club is interviewing him on Tuesday 23rd February and would love to hear from you. If you could email me at as soon as you can with your question about the book (anything - doesn't have to be particularly clever!), we can either arrange for you to talk to the man himself, or have our presenter put your question to John for you. Then you get to hear your question on World Service Radio! Please get in touch soonest, including where you are in the world.

Thanks, and all the best.

Ruth McDermott, BBC World Book Club

Adrienne Strock I couldn't agree more! I really wanted to like it

Dawna I agree with most of what you say, but I was taken by the fact that this story demonstrated the innocence of these children at play and as friends one was helping the other with food and adventure.. that in the end we are all the same.. and that the loss was poignant which ever side they were on..

Dawna The actual disgust of what was realistically going on as to the backdrop of this story was distasteful.. however.. we are all innocent as young children and it is only the world and the evil within it that corrupts us and our children to the point of no return..

Sophie Camara You must remember that its a young adult book. I think the author wanted the book in a child's view because as a child YOU DONT KNOW WHAT TO DO. I think its great because it shows the growth of understanding what is going on, through the children. You must also remember that its also a fictional book based on a historic event. We can clearly see that the author hasn't been through the struggle but he is able to grab you and make you feel the pain that these children/people could have felt. From a person who hasnt been through it, I think that he did a wonderful job detailing and making you pity the child. To see a horrific world through a child's point of view, I think, is what can cause you to break. Their innocence and naive-ness makes you mad but breaks you because it shows how children dont know any better and if we dont teach our children about these kind of things, they might as well walk to their death bed.
All in all, I respect your opinion and thank you for your time.

Melissa Kim Crowley, I find your comment quite ironic. Bruno is 8/9 yet you're in 9th grade, but you still have spelling mistakes.

Bruno is supposed to be naïve. The book is supposed to be simple to show how people were so unaware of what was occurring during Hitler's reign.

message 9: by Lina (new) - rated it 1 star

Lina People weren't unaware of what happened. They were willfully ignorant. Even smart people - not just brainless children. Because that's the way humans are.

This book contains no truth about the Nazi era whatsoever. For one simple reason: Boyne thinks he's too good to do research. Someone who at least tried it wouldn't have produced a trainwreck of this size...

message 10: by Christopher (new)

Christopher Saunders "What is the moral in this story? Don't trust in the friendship of Jews?" I probably shouldn't have laughed at this, but God help me I did. Great review.

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