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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
By John Boyne
The 10th Anniversary Edition
David Fickling Books, Oxford & New York: 2016
ISBN: 978-0-385-75106-3

Reviewed by Anna Dogole - March 8, 2016

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a haunting and disturbing fable by John Boyne. This story is told from the viewpoint of Bruno, a nine-year-old German boy, whose life is disturbed by the vicissitudes of World War II. Born in Berlin, Bruno has a happy childhood, despite his father's being strict and standoffish and whose office is "Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions." However, Bruno's life changes abruptly when the Fury comes to dinner and makes his father Commandant of 'Out-With'. Seemingly overnight the family packs up, and along with his mother and sister Gretel, Bruno finds himself living in a stark house in the middle of nowhere. Soldiers are everywhere and many treat their new home more as an office than a family residence. More important, for Bruno, his father has a new shiny uniform and he is even more off-putting than ever.

Bruno doesn't like the new house, and doesn't understand why they had to move, nor why he had to leave his friends behind. Bruno doesn't much care for his sister, and he finds life at Out-With very lonely, as there are no other children to play with. Or so he thinks. However, looking through his bedroom window he notices that in the distance, behind a large fence, are hundreds, if not thousands of people, all wearing stripped pyjamas. Going out to explore this strange new world, Bruno meets Shmuel, a nine-year-old Jewish boy who gets to wear striped pyjamas all day, and who lives on the other side of the fence.

Bruno and Shmuel quickly develop a potent friendship, and Bruno comes to 'their' place by the fence as often as possible. The boys, each sitting on their respective sides of the fence, talk about their lives, their desires, and they try to understand what is going on around them - with little luck. I don't want to say much more about the story as I've probably already given too much of it away, but suffice it to say that Bruno and Shmuel's friendship ends tragically.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is an unforgettable book. Although written for young adults, adults of all ages will find this book compelling. Those with some knowledge of the Holocaust and World War II will have no trouble identifying 'The Fury' and 'Out-With' although some readers may find these terms confusing. As such, especially with younger readers, they provide ample fodder for conversations about the Holocaust and an opportunity to explore the very different worlds that Bruno and Shmuel found themselves living in. I highly recommend this book to readers of all ages, as a fine addition to the body of Holocaust literature. As well, it is also a moving book that will make you ask yourself many hard questions, both about events in the past, and those in the present.

When The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was first published in 2006, it was just 'another' book for young adults. However, unlike most of the other books published in 2006, this one has become a classic. It is required reading in many schools, and it has touched the hearts of readers of all ages. This new, 10th anniversary edition of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas brings this remarkable book to the attention of a new generation of readers. This new edition also includes some 'Questions for Discussion' that will prove useful for use in school, for book clubs, and for parents looking for guidance on how to start a discussion about this book with their children.


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