The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Book Review by Kathleen Lane

Sometimes one has a quite unexpected surprise. Whilst scouring the shelves of a local book shop recently an assistant proved to be very knowledgeable about books and what was actually in store at the time. She took me directly to where the paperback versions of two books I wanted were on the shelves and then pointed out the current three for two offer. Having got what I knew I wanted, I took a random stab and picked up a slim volume. It was called Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne.

From the illustration on cover I surmised that it was about a concentration camp, but when I got inside, I found it to be a charming and revealing first person narrative written as if by Bruno, a small German boy living in Berlin. The clarity of his view of the action around him at home, the descriptions of his relationships with his mother, his distant father, his sister with whom he shares a hearty, mutual loathing and his “three best friends for life” at school are superb.

So are his asides about his views on certain people. Bruno’s observation of  a visit to the family home by Hitler and Eva, his female companion, for example, is masterly.

Father emerges as an ambitious member of the Nazi Party, who has caught the eye of the Fury – Bruno’s rendition of the Fuehrer. As a result he gets singled out for promotion, which involves the family leaving their comfortable home, the servants and Karl, Daniel and Martin, the three best friends for life, and moving to somewhere he calls Out With. The new house is small, uncomfortable, bereft of all but one maid from Berlin and an old man called Pavel, who helps to prepare the vegetables and wait on the family at table each evening.

The house is also treated like an office by the young Nazi officers who work for Father in the very strange place next to the house, about which they must never ask questions and at which the family are forbidden to look.

Sadly, over time Bruno’s memories of his former home fade, he forgets what his friends look like and he loses contact with his beloved Grandmother, who on the last occasion she visited the family in Berlin, had a monumental argument with Father about his posturing in his “ridiculous uniform”.

Bruno strikes up an uneasy relationship with Pavel, who reveals that he is a qualified doctor, which puzzles poor  Bruno. One of the young officers also starts a flirtatious contact with his sister and apparently a more than flirtatious relationship with Bruno’s mother, who also appears to seek solace in alcohol when the young man makes a hasty and unexplained departure to the Eastern Front.

Bruno has been told not to look out of the windows at the people, whom he mistakes for children, behind the wire outside the new house. He has also been warned not to ask any questions at home about  them and what they are doing there. However, because is so bored, one day Bruno decides to go exploring. His curiosity leads him to another small boy who is called Shmuel, who wears striped pyjamas and lives on the other side of the wire.

Bruno’s account of their developing friendship is charming and thought provoking. Sadly his curiosity and their friendship leads to tragedy at Out With, which we finally discover is in fact Auschwitz.

One of the publicity quotations suggests that the book will take children over ten years of age on an emotional roller coaster. I would want to be sure that any young person reading this book is well over ten and had plenty of support available during and after reading it.

Boyne, J. Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne(2007) Black Swan edition, but originally published (2006) by David Fickling Books

ISBN   9780552773805


5 thoughts on “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne”

  1. i am reading this book right now, i am 14 i think it is touching. you can just feel what bruno is going through. its sad but informs you of what happened when hitler ruled. i reccomend this book to anyone that likes books that really make you feel for the characters.

  2. I read this book in school and I loved it, i’m 12 and i think it is really moving and shows the raceism in 2nd world war. It is a very good book that I would reccomend o anyone who likes books with a real meaning!!

  3. I read this book in school, i am 13 and I’m in top class for English. This book was inspiring as i thought it was touching for what a 9 years old boy was going through. Hence it shows how it was at the time Hitler ruled. also this book is linked with Anne franks diary. I would recommend this book to all ages =) . It is a good book that can be read in a group or by yourself. i give it a 5/5.
    I can’t wait tell they make a movie based version of this. Thank you for reading my comment and enjoy reading

  4. i read this book for englsh class , and would never have thought of reading it before that . But i genuinly loved it . It was a great book and it really gives young people a chance to see what living was like during World War 2. My english teacher is organising to have John Boyne come into our class , to talk about the book , i cant wait to ask him some questions on the book . And i would recommend this book to anyone that likes reading , especially about World War 2 events.

    Thanks for reading my comment ( enjoy the book )!!!!!!! =D

    Love Abbie xxx

  5. This is a really good book and I think anyone who’s mature enough should read it to gain better understanding of what happened during the Holocaust, even though the descriptions are somewhat childish. It’s true that younger kids don’t read it because it may only scare them.

    I thought the ending was sad and unexpected. And Boyne is right. Nobody should ever come to such a fence.

    Here is my review of this book!


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