The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne(Cover picture courtesy of Kids Book Review.)

If you start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy named Bruno.  (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.)  And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence.

Fences like this exist all over the world.

We hope you never have to encounter one.

I wanted to like this book.  I really, really did.  I mean, it’s practically a classic.  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is studied in classrooms all over the world and it’s even been made into quite a popular movie.  It’s supposed to be a touching take on the Holocaust through the naive eyes of a nine-year-old boy.  This should be a book I loved.

Obviously it wasn’t if I’m rambling on like this.  Throughout the novel, the words ‘trying too hard’ came to mind because of John Boyne’s writing style.  He tries to portray an incredibly naive nine-year-old boy but ends up portraying a spoiled, unaware brat.  He tries to put an ironic, tragic twist at the end, but it feels contrived.  John Boyne just tried too hard instead of letting the story speak for itself.  His constant interjections and observations make it seem more like he’s telling the story than truly showing it through innocent Bruno’s eyes.  It makes it feel like he expects his readers are idiots who couldn’t infer some of the more subtle themes from the story itself.

I’ve read thousand page books that are less tedious than The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.  John Boyne repeats things over and over and over again until it feels like he’s beating you over the head with a stick.  Readers are not idiots; they will not forget that Bruno’s father was visited by the ‘Fury’ over only 215 pages.  They will also not forget that Bruno is a spoiled brat who matures very, very little by the end of the novel.  In the end, he’s still essentially the same ridiculously naive child who seems to lack even basic understanding of the world around him.  There’s also the issue of whether Bruno could have even gotten near the fence at Auschwitz without getting spotted by the numerous guards or getting zapped by the electrified fence.

In short, what was supposed to be a touching novel was not.  It was patronizing and tedious, just to use two words that come to mind.  The Boy in the Striped Pajamas should have been a tribute to those who lost their lives, but ended up feeling like John Boyne wanted a literary award badly.

I give this book 1/5 stars.

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  1. theairtwit

    Thinking about this book makes me cringe. I picked this up a while ago and didn’t make it very far before deciding it was worth abandoning. I know there are many people enjoy this book, but it came off as historically incorrect and rather offensive to me. How could a boy of Bruno’s age be so unaware, especially when Hitler Youth became all but compulsory? Of course, there are many issues I find with this book, some of which you bring up as well.

    • Carrie Slager

      Yeah, it definitely was historically inaccurate, especially when you consider Hitler Youth would have been compulsory for the ten-year-old Bruno at the end of the book. Another thing is that ‘Out-With’ in German sounds nothing like Auschwitz; any native speaker of German would know that. But oh, not Bruno! When I asked my dad, who spoke German at home when he was little, to compare the two words he looked at me like I’d grown a second head. They sound nothing alike if you actually speak German. The Auschwitz/Out-With thing is just a symptom of all of the rather offensive inaccuracies, as you point out.

      I don’t get offended often, but this book succeeded in offending me.

  2. Thomas

    Aw, I’m sorry that you didn’t like this book Carrie, but I admire your ability to critique it without appearing pretentious. You make an interesting point about how the author may have tried too hard – it’s intriguing to me because it exemplifies how different readers comprehend characters and scenes differently. Great review!

    • Carrie Slager

      Thanks Thomas! Yes, it constantly amazes me how different readers perceive the same book differently. I guess it depends not only on your life experience, but your background knowledge of the topic as well as your general reading experiences.

    • Carrie Slager

      Maybe because the film doesn’t make us stay in Bruno’s point of view? 😉 Anyway, I’m glad I’m not completely alone in my criticism of a practically classic novel.

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