The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

John Boyne

What a book! It has taken me about a week after finishing this book before I am able to write the review.

This book touched me.


The book is sub-titled as a fable and in many ways it is. It’s written as though for and by a child – to some extent. The language used has traces of the way a child would use it. Bruno, the main character, refers to his sister as a Hopeless Case and as the reader you can hear the way he would have said the words with capital letters.

There are gentle repetitions of things a child would repeat and the inclusion of details only kids would notice. But rather than the make the book seem immature, it makes it very readable. It kind of lilts along, skipping and jumping over puddles. The words carrying the reader through the story almost without the reader having to think about it. And this gentle breeze-like quality of the writing only makes the story more powerful.


The narrative follows the friendship between a German soldier’s son and a Jewish boy. They are both at Auschwitz (or Out-With as Bruno calls it) in the middle of WWII and are equally unaware of what they are part of. As historically aware readers, it is easy to see the kind of disaster they are heading for but they are completely oblivious of what is going on around them. This is not a lilting, gentle, puddle hopping story.


This is an awful story of innocence and brutality; of war and family; of death and destruction. But it is also a story of friendship and understanding, error and forgiveness. Of two little boys being friends despite the rules simply because the rules are so absurd that they do not even know of their existence.


I finished this book and wept. I cried for the reality of it and for our collective past. I sobbed for the lingering existence of the attitude of superiority of any one group of people over another which continues to exist despite history. But mostly I shad tears for the two little boys I had grown rather fond of. Not an easy story to read but a really very powerful one.


Maybe it is books like this rather than dusty history lessons that will finally teach humankind to stop repeating history! Sadly, I think nothing will.