The penultimate act of my ‘books into films’ series : The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
There are a few books I read as a child that capture the ferocity of the Holocaust in a manner that is appropriate for the young audience. Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars was one. And John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is certainly another, although I did read this novel as an adult. This book is such a beautiful contradiction of itself. Set against a backdrop of one of history’s greatest aberrations, this a tale of friendship, love and innocence. This book is classed as a children’s book but like so many great writers such as J.K. Rowling and Roald Dahl, the book resonates deeply with adults as well.
The cleverness of this John Boyne novel is his ability to really speak the voice of a nine year old boy, Bruno. After a couple of pages, his new home of ‘Outwith’ is really understood as its true name and it is even more heart-wrenching being revealed in this way. So too is the character ‘The Fury’; a man we start to understand as Bruno’s father’s boss and one history’s greatest tyrants. It is very, very clever first person narrative writing.
As with all novels that use the atrocities of WWII as a backdrop, there needs to be moments of lightness to sustain reading the novel. A long treacherous road through darkness and despair can only be sustained for so long. It is here where this novel shines as it manages to pull at the heart strings in both moments of light and moments of shade.
Finally, this is a novel. It is not supposed to function as nor does it intend to be a true representation of the events surrounding the Holocaust. Whether a family like Bruno’s did indeed live adjacent to the camp, I do not know. What I do know is that this tale is a sweet as it is harrowing and gives the reader a moment to reflect about an alternate view of humanity from some of our best teachers – children.