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The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

David Fickling Books, 2006

John Boyne is an Irish author http://www.johnboyne.com  who will be speaking at the Voices on the Coast Youth Literature Festival (at Immanuel Lutheran College, Buderim) some time between 27 May and 2 June 2007 www.immanuel.qld.edu.au/voices.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is Boyne’s fourth, and most successful, book.

This novel is an astonishing attempt at the most difficult of quests: to describe, through the telling of a fable, the collision of innocence with evil.

Like the film Pan’s Labyrinth, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas juxtaposes a child’s yearning to explore with tyranny’s thirst for destruction.

Bruno is a nine year old German boy who is uprooted from his privileged childhood home in Berlin as his family moves to a far less welcoming house in southern Poland. It is in fact the Commandant’s house at one of the three concentration camps around the town of Auschwitz where 1.1 million, 90% of whom were Jews from almost every country in Europe, were murdered by the Nazis during World War 2. (I don’t like to reveal an author’s sub-text so explicitly, but there have been press reports in recent months that some Australians choose to deny the very substance of the Holocaust).

There, Bruno meets Shmuel, a 9 year old Jewish inmate of ‘Out-With’ (Bruno’s attempt to pronounce the unpronouncable), who wears the uniform of the persecuted minority. Boyne describes the brutality of the situation through piercing episodes involving the household’s servants and the Nazi soldiers who visit Bruno’s father and mother. The climax to this novel is chilling and effective.

This book will help teachers introduce this crucial facet of 20th century history to those of Bruno’s age or above. Who knew that a simple story could do this?

Reviewed by Mark Young