The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
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I thought it was terrible. I am a temple librarian and no one at work could understand how this book received so much praise. I thought it was tasteless and tactless and just a waste of paper.
The main character's naivety seemed a bit unbelievable, but I thought Boyne was a good writer. What was interesting about The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is the perspective it takes on the holocaust, being told through the eyes of what seems to be a fairly stupid boy who is, by default, basically, on the side of the Nazis. It is unique in that it is not told by victims or heros.
When I read this book 2 years ago, I wanted to talk about it with somebody, but I couldn't find anyone who had read it. I wasn't sure what I thought about it, other than that it is interesting. The ending certainly surprised me.
I'm also puzzled as to which age group this book would appeal to--it's sold here in Canada as YA, but I'm not sure a teen would like it (being about a 9 year old boy, and all). But any younger really wouldn't get it.
Also, some of the word play, which is quite central to the protagonist's world view, wouldn't translate into other languages. For example, doesn't he think Auschwitz is Out With? (Can't remember these details--I've read a lot of other stuff since then).
According to our local specialty children's book shop, the novel has sold well in the Jewish community (small that it is here) but not so much otherwise. I was surprised by that too.
Hm...I thought it was a reasonably good portrayal of a child lost at sea in a very adult world, with distant adults who don't explain to him where he is, why he is there, and what is going on.
There's a sense of silence in the book, complete miscommunication. I must disagree that the child is stupid - he's just a child. A confused child who doesn't understand fences, or cultural divides.
You're right, he isn't actually stupid, he just frustrates me, because I think there are a lot more clues the kid could pick up on - he's 9, not 4.
Severn - that's an interesting view. Now that you put it that way, I agree. With that in mind, what age do you think the audience for this book is?
An interesting question, and one I'm not sure has a definitive answer.
For instance, on a personal level, things to do with the Holocaust greatly affect me - images, text and so on - and I'm drawn to them in an effort (vain) to understand why. So, even though I'm 30ish it made me quite emotional. For, others who aren't drawn to the subject it might seem like a chore to read. Its emotion exists in both its understatement, and childish writing that reflects the view of the child narrator. The writing in and of itself isn't gripping, challenging or beautiful; it's driven solely by the subject matter. And because the book is written so simply it might appear to be 'for' young adults.
A child, or teen, who is well-educated on the subject will likely understand the subject, and it's ending. It's a book that needs context though and without that context it will be, in essence, meaningless - in terms of the shock ending at least. So, a younger person who doesn't know much about those events might be left scratching their head.
There's just no cut and dried line of what makes a child's book, or a YA book and I think this is a fine example of the confusion that can arise.
eta - certain words that got away
The problem with the book is that essentially it's a Holocaust fantasy and teaches/portrays things about the Holocaust that are simply untrue- like that there were unsupervised children running around camps (there weren't- all kids under 16 were gassed as soon as they arrived) or that a German child, and a child of Nazis no less, would not know what Jews were, or would never have noticed classmates and neighbors disappearing, etc. The problem is that the book is unmoored from historical fact and is therefore misleading and undermines efforts to teach the Holocaust accurately. And YES I realize it's fiction, but even historical fiction should be grounded in historical reality.
All children were gassed immediately? I thought Elie Weisel was pretty young (younger than 16) when he was in the camp.
Some of my sixth graders have read it and identify with it, the way their parents can exclude them from important things happening in their lives without really thinking about it. We had to discuss the ending and what exactly happened, because they haven't gotten to the Holocaust in social studies yet and didn't really understand what it meant to have an entire chamber (camp, even) solely for the purpose of exterminating humans.
I think middle school is a good age for this book. They're young enough to be innocent to it all, but old enough to comprehend. Bruno is only a child, and thus sees the world from a child's eyes and understanding. Who's to say what a child would or would not have noticed.
There were different rules in different camps - with, of course, the same overall objective. Wherever there is corruption, bribery will enable miracles.
Check out Luba: The Angel of Bergen Belsen for a short children's story of some hidden children in the camps. Also, Jane Yolen's Devil's Arithmetic, while it is fiction, has some historical citation.
My book club, which has a Jewish theme, read it an was underwhelmed. Like "Devourer," we felt the child was old enough to know much more about what was going on. And like "boston," we felt the unlikeliness of the story minimized the real, absolute horror of concentration camps. That seemed especially troublesome for a YA book.
#10, some children (a very few) were hidden, and some young people lied about their age and weren't killed immediately. but as a rule, kids younger than 16 did not live long.
Also, there were death camps (Auschwitz and a few other camps in Poland) and concentration camps. (The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Night were both set in Auschwitz of course). People who didn't survive concentration camps generally died of disease. So I believe that children in concentration camps would have lasted a while. Anne Frank died of typhus in a camp.
It amazes me how little students know about this part of history. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and it seemed to be just part of what you grew up knowing about. Maybe because it was my parent's generation and they talked about it. My 14 year old niece is reading Anne Frank right now, and we got talking about it the other day, and I was stunned by her lack of knowledge. "What's a concentration camp?", that sort of thing. She wants to borrow my copy of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas next, but I don't think she's going to get what is clever, unique and meaningful about that book. I think she should read something more straight forward. Any suggestions?
A friend of mine teaches high school English, and she did Night this past term. She said the student's (16 yrs old) level of knowledge about this is really low. She brought in a concentration camp survivor to talk to the class and that seemed to make it more real to them.
Look at the fourth paragraph for info on treatment of children at Auschwitz.
Nickelini, my sixth-graders are reading Number the Stars, which is good but might be a bit young for your 14-year-old. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak and The Devil's Arithmetic by Jane Yolen both have been highly recommended to me, and I believe I was reading Night by Elie Weisel much upon those years (fourteen, that is).
Just a warning - my 8 year old niece read it at school and was deeply, deeply distressed by it. Nightmares, tears, and not just briefly either. You should think very carefully about giving it to a younger readers.
She is an advanced reader for her age and has happily tackled many books but this one was a huge mistake by her school.
Eight years old is WAY too young for this book. Actually, I'm surprised she even understood enough of it to have nightmares. Obviously a good example that just because someone CAN read the words doesn't mean they SHOULD read the words. Are you in North America? The book is marketed here as YA--that's young ADULT, so the teacher who gave this to an eight year old needs a reprimand and a lesson on age appropriateness. I believe the author wrote this book for adults, but his publisher decided it was YA. I'm just shocked that anyone thought this was a book for children of that age.
I read this awhile ago now and as much as I can say I liked a book with this subject, I did like it. I realised what was going to happen just a couple of pages before it did and couldn't read fast enough hoping to be proved wrong.
I also had credibility issues with it in so far as thinking that Bruno, as the son of a senior Nazi officer in charge of a death camp and receiving visits from Adolf Hitler at home, would be a little more aware than he actually was, of Jews and the attitude towards them at the very least.
I think perhaps a nine year old boy then might have been less aware than a nine year old boy now, with all the TV news, internet etc that almost forces an awareness on todays children before they are ready.
But I wondered if perhaps the story, although appearing to be about a young boy who is so innocent he mistakes a death camp for a farm, a uniform for pyjamas etc, is actually about a whole world full of people who just didn't realise what was going on, even if they perhaps should have.
Many people who lived near the camps claimed not to know what was happening inside them, even adults who should have been more aware claimed to be ignorant of the deaths at the time.
Were the real people of the time that ignorant or innocent or were they turning a blind eye and trying not to think about what was going on, either because they felt it best not to interfere or discuss it for fear of reprisals or because they supported it? I think Bruno in the book was perhaps supposed to represent every person who should have known but who claimed not to know and looking at it from that angle made it a better book for me.
Oooh, I like where you're going with this, Jody. Perhaps we're SUPPOSED to question Bruno's credibility in order to think about the question of adults in the area claiming ignorance?
As far as what age the book was meant for, John Boyne is an established writer for children and intended the book for middle school aged kids, kids who would be studying the Holocaust for the first time in school. 8 is way too young. #22, I think that's a stretch and inferring a greater level of sophistication than is present in the text. But then again maybe I should just stay out of this conversation going forward.
It certainly may be a stretch, but it would make me feel better about Bruno's extreme naivety if the author meant for it to prove a point.
#23 - Sorry if I made an error about John Boyne's intended age range. I can't remember where I heard that, or I would have quoted my source. I also meant to add a disclaimer saying such, but I got interupted mid-post and forgot to. (I didn't personally think it read like an adult book, but the intended audience for this book has always perplexed me). I don't know why you'd want to leave the discussion though, sounds like you have interesting thoughts on this.
Okay, so John Boyne is a children's writer . . . I just scored one a book of his in the ER program. Good to know it's a children's book--kinda makes a difference to my future review :-) And that might explain why I scored the book in the first place (I have lots of kid lit in my library).
#25, Because I feel like Mary Mary Quite Contrary. I have very strong feelings and objections to the book that I believe are well-grounded in historical fact. I get frustrated because I feel like my point about how misleading it is has been buttressed as this discussion has moved along. So I feel like the contrarian here. But thank you.
Referring back to posts 20, 23 and 25, I just rec'd my ER copy of John Boyne's new book Mutiny on the Bounty. This is definitely marketed as an adult book, and there is no mention in the author blurb on the flap that he is a writer of children's books. He is noted as the "author of the international bestseller The Boy in the Striped Pajamas). I've never seen an adult writer/children's writer crossover handled quite this way before, if that is indeed what this is.
Which just brings me back to my original question about The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas (post 4, above). What age is this book written for? Too young, and they won't get it. Teenage, the question is whether they'll care about a naive 9 year old. Adult? It doesn't read like an adult book. I am no closer to understanding than I was when I read it two years ago. In fact, I'm more puzzled.
bostonbibliophile - what is a temple librarian please? I have never heard that expression in Australia.
30 thanks, - :)
I found the book to be a powerful tale but a fiction indeed it was and certainly rather unrealisitic given historical circumstances.
The boys at our school 8-18 year olds - have really not taken to it whereas some of the adults are keen to promote it but ultimately it will languish on the shelves now the initial interest after publication has died down.
I think the author was trying to say that often we see what we want to see.
There was so much propaganda in Nazi Germany. It is amazing that the Holocaust took place and people's knowledge was very limited.
The author included "A Fable" in the title. I think he was trying make a symbolic point.
I thought it was powerful that Bruno's family doesn't know what happened to him. That was similiar to the fate of many Jews in World War II who were separated from their families. The father is suddenly able to see what he has been doing to these people that he considers less than human.
I listened to the audiobook. I thought John Boyne's commentary at the end was very helpful.
In response to #19: Though it is easy to blame the school, or the library for allowing a child that is clearly too young for certain reading materials children cannot be judged or denied access. It is the parents, or caregivers responsibility to monitor these reading materials and take a vested interest in what has been checked out.
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