I don’t have as much free time as I did before, resulting in rather random choices for reading material—my plans for an Awesome April isn’t quite going as planned (failing to participate in the Readathon I’d long waited for, among others). The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne was never in my reading plans. But, yes, harried schedule calls for haphazard book choices: I unfortunately scoured a BookSale, and came up with this book. The blogosphere had been abuzz re this title a couple of months ago (in pre-S&TS days). I was dubious, though–it never appealed to me. Knowing next to nothing about the book–even the blurb didn’t reveal much–I had to talk myself into sitting down with it.
Of course I read it in one sitting. I am predictable that way. Heh. Following, lifted from my LRM, and I’m in a considerate mood, so I disguised possible spoilers:
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# 72 [of 2010] • THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS
→ a novel (well, fable) by JOHN BOYNE
We rely on Bruno, a nine-year-old, to tell us this story. On one hand, we feel the same confusions as him, and raise the same questions–initially: Why did they move from Berlin? What does his Father do? What the bleep is happening? But his innocence steers him to his answers; easy to realize that us readers know more than this boy. Ah, dramatic irony. Bruno tells us that his family has been relocated to Out-With; his father’s a commandant, and The Fury “has big plans for him.” Sasha realizes that Bruno is the son of one of Hitler’s top officers, and the family is now living at the fringes of Auschwitz. Da-dum!
Going to Bruno and his sister Gretel’s reaction to seeing Out-With for the first time. It’s chilling. They don’t know what’s out there, but children instinctively know when something is wrong. How extraordinary, is what Bruno mutters. The simplicity of it all. So Father is a Nazi commandant. He’s handsome in his uniform. He’s A Big Deal. And as much as we readers want a story in which Father is simply a victim of circumstance, well, Father likes his job.
♦ Bruno is a sheltered boy. Naive. His older sister calls him stupid, as loving older sisters are wont to do. Bruno’s naivete is necessary for this story to work. There has to be a juxtaposition between this unblemished boy who can’t really take any sides because he has no idea what’s going on. He’s innocent in all this; he can’t make judgment. A nine-year-old sheltered boy–even if he is the son of Nazi commandant (well, even more so because…)–is the perfect blank slate we can see this tale through.
Sometimes, though, I felt that Boyne was laying it on thick. Craft-wise, he needed Bruno to be as naive as he was, else this would have been all full of cheap tricks and false heroics and sentimental drivel. But when it works, it works:
[Bruno] pushed his two feet together and shot his right arm into the air before clicking his two heels together and saying in as deep and clear a voice as possible–as much like Father’s as he could manage–the words he said every time he left a soldier’s presence.
“Heil Hitler,” he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.”
However, Boyne’s self-awareness in labelling this book a fable saves it from being too off-putting. It’s okay to be two-dimensional and occasionally unbelievable when you’re part of a fable. There must be a rule about that somewhere.
♦ Bruno and Shmuel comparing their hands. Oh, my heart–I feel like this book is going to break you into itty-bitty pieces.
♦ I just finished reading the book. It’s kind of amazing, though I might have a problem with the last chapter called, appropriately enough, “The Last Chapter.” That felt rather unceremonious. Too abrupt. Why didn’t Boyne prolong it? Imagine the drama!
♦ [About three hours later:] Oh crap, I totally take that last one back. The simplicity and the “abruptness” of that last scene was completely deceptive; the images sneak up on you when you least expect it. It lingered, without me knowing it. So breathtaking in its unexpectedness, its sadness, the disarming cruelty. My goodness, that ending resonates even when you’d dismissed it already. My god. Just. My god.
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I feel so scarred by that ending. That was just awesome. I don’t even feel emotionally manipulated or blackmailed into feeling for it. It was just Whoa. I mean, I wasn’t expecting to even like this book–it was just to keep me company. But, again, Whoa.