Reviewing: The Boy in The Striped Pajamas – Book and Film

I’ve seen this book in a bookshop not so long ago, sitting next to another book that looked equally as interesting. I only had enough money on me to take one home. Biggest dilemma any bookworm has to inevitably face. So, I just stood there for forever with both books in my hands as my classmate huffed and sighed loudly and told me to get on with it. I wanted them both so bad, but I ended up closing my eyes and putting down The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and buying the other book, which still sits on my shelves today, untouched.

A few weeks after, during my Composition final exam, I had to write a descriptive essay describing a thief that stole an old lady’s handbag as I made my way down the street. For some odd reason, I made the thief a skinny, barefoot, little boy wearing striped pajamas. When I came back home, I remembered where my inspiration for that essay came from, and I instantly got hold of the e-book and started reading.

I always like to tell the story of how I got to read my favourite books, or at least write about it in my blog, so that in the years to come, when I have forgotten all about how it happened, I can reread my blog and remember my little adventure.

Without giving too much away, I will try to give you a brief idea of what to expect from this novel:

The year is 1942, the setting is Berlin. You will follow a nine-year-old boy named Bruno as he returns home from school one day to find that his family is moving away. All of his belongings and everyone else’s are being put away in wooden crates. The servants are putting everything in the enormous and lovely five-storey house away in preparation for the move. What caused this whole sudden commotion is the fact that Bruno’s Father, a very important soldier in the Party, got a promotion and therefore must move with his family to a new house far, far away from Berlin to cater to his new job. Bruno isn’t happy about leaving behind home and his three best friends and grandparents, all of the things which he loved so much, to go live some place where there was nothing to do and no one to play with. Shortly after arriving to the new house and accepting that there was no going back home in the foreseeable future, he starts to go around exploring the desolate area, arrives at a fence, meets a boy of his age dressed in striped pajamas on the other side of the fence and finally makes his first new friend.

The next paragraphs will inevitably contain spoilers, and while I do want you dear reader to keep reading, I also would hate to spoil such a beautiful story for anyone, so kindly stop reading if you do not wish to be spoiled.

The Boy in The Striped Pajamas hit me like a ton of bricks for two reasons:

  1. I absolutely LOVE world war II fiction novels and I haven’t read one in absolutely ages. So many of my favourite books are set in that era, in that country. I don’t know, but something about 30’s-40’s Germany that I just love, despite the fact that there’s war and there’s Hilter and the unspeakable, inhumane things he did to Jews. In spite of all that unpleasantness, there ARE stories of people who were German and were good and kind and didn’t hate Jews. I also love the way everything looked back then, the warm toned colours, the houses and the streets, the people’s clothes, the way they wore their hair and the way they spoke. It’s all just so beautiful.
  2. This was a book that’s so beautifully written, so incredibly well done, and I will tell you why. This book took a very dark and unsettling topic and subjected it to the eyes and mind capacities of a child. A good, innocent, simple-minded, goodhearted child, at that. Bruno, from the moment he thought the place beyond the fence was a farm and the people in striped pajamas were farmers, to the point where he was holding Shmeul’s hand right before they were burned to death, still did not and could not understand what was going on around him, and always had a nice, perfectly reasonable explanation to everything and that objectively everything was going to be okay and he could always go home to have roast beef for dinner and maybe Shmeul could come up to the house and have dinner with him too. He didn’t know evil. He didn’t know cruelty. He thought the Fury (The Fuhrer, which he thought was called the Fury, such an innocent child!) was a horrible man with horrible manners when he came to dinner at Out-With (Another misinterpretation of the camp Auschtwitz made by silly little Bruno). He thought that some soldiers were bad soldiers, like Lieutenant Kotler, but ultimately the more important ones, like Father, were good soldiers. Throughout the book, the writing helps you see the story through Bruno’s eyes, and hear his simple childish thoughts about everything that’s going on as he tries to make sense of it all, but you still understand the weight of it, you get to taste the horridness of the situation, even when he doesn’t, and that’s why I think this book was so brilliant. It gave a whole lot through very little.

The film adaptation was great, but not as great as I would have liked it to be. For starters it could have been longer than 1h35min, and besides, they could have done with not changing and not skipping events from the book as much as they did. Also, the British accent was okay, but again it would have been far better if the characters had a German accent (which was the case in The Book Thief’s film adaptation). Oh, and the casting was great except for The Commandant. In the book he was portrayed as a strong, feared father figure whose boots made the house reverberate every time he made an appearance, which was not successfully illustrated in the film.

All in all, this story remains one of the many great World War II stories that I can’t help but recommend to anyone who wants in to a little bit of a heartbreaking read/watch treat for the weekend. Oh, and definitely read the book first if you want the whole experience.

 

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