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 to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas centers around a nine year-old boy named Bruno who comes into adolescence at the time of the Holocaust. He is an extremely curious young man who only wants to understand the world around him, so his family’s move from Berlin raises many questions as he struggles to understand his father’s job and his country’s situation.
In his new home, Bruno is at first unhappy and lonely, but when he meets Shmuel, a boy of the same age, his perspective begins to change. The boys become friends, despite large limitations, and Bruno begins to understand the true realities and consequences of the Holocaust, different from what his schoolbooks and perhaps his father have taught him.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was truly a touching read for me. I have long studied the Holocaust in school, and have read numerous books on the topic, but this novel was different, most likely because of Bruno’s unique voice. Bruno, as a character, is very innocent, and does not understand the horrible truth of what is occurring around him. For example, he calls the Führer “the Fury” and Auschwitz “Out With” simply because he does not know any better.
What exactly was the difference? he wondered to himself. And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?
I think this naivety is what made the book so special – a tragic situation is narrated by a young boy who puts everything in simple terms and questions the root of our society’s problems. It made the novel incredibly poignant and touching, and gave the whole story an elegant, dark undertone.
After finishing the book, I hopped onto Goodreads and was surprised to find that people had rated the book poorly; one star, even. After reading their reviews, though, I could understand their reasoning – that the novel oversimplified such a horrible event, and that there were some incorrect and unrealistic situations. For me, though, this read was not about trying to diminish the Holocaust, but rather about being aware of the events that so devastated millions of people, and better understanding the divide.
I finished The Boy in the Striped Pajamas in only a day and found it incredibly moving. 5/5 stars.