Monday, August 10, 2009

The things I let people talk me into...

It doesn't take much to get me to read a book. So when April tossed The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne on the circulation desk and told me to read it, I did.

The story follows Bruno, who is an incredibly naive nine-year-old boy living in Germany (Berlin) with his family. He talks about the Fury and discovers that his father's work (as Commandant) will now take his family to a new home. His understanding is so limited on certain subjects, that he confuses words we all know--names, for example. The Fury is Hitler. His new home is Out With. In Poland. Think about it.

His father takes charge of what we all easily recognize as a concentration camp. But Bruno doesn't get it. Nor does he understand why he is not supposed to talk to the waiter who he finds used to be a doctor, who lives behind the fence mere feet from Bruno's home.

I found Bruno's ignorance frustrating. But at the same time, he showed insight beyond his years. The author was trying to show us how Bruno's innocence allowed him to see beyond the prejudices and politics of those older than him, including his sister the Hopeless Case, who throws away her dolls and replaces them with maps with each battle depicted with different colored pins. At times, though, I found him annoying.

Bruno needed a lack of understanding for the novel's ending to work, and for it to be as meaningful as it was. And the novel does have a good ending. Sad, but very good.

What I liked about the novel was that it showed the Holocaust from a different viewpoint than the norm. I grew up reading novels about young Jewish children being smuggled out of their homelands or surviving horrific conditions at concentration camps, or even about young German or Polish children helping young Jewish children their parents are trying to smuggle out of the country.

This novel shows us (through the eyes of someone as unbiased as is possible--through ignorance) what the reactions of average people in Germany and Poland were to the actions of the German government. In a way, it was very much like The Sound of Music--a military man and his family placed in an impossible situation. Refusing "The Fury" meant death, going along with his orders meant duties you would rather not have.

I hate reading about the Holocaust. But this book was well written and meaningful, as well as original. So I liked it. Meaning I both hated and loved this book.

So with great personal conflict: I recommend this book to you.

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