I was a bit naughty and bought this book earlier this week, because I’d been reading some other stuff about Nazi Germany and I just fancied reading a novel about it, too. I saw the film that they made of this back when it came out at the cinema, but that was back in 2008 so the memory of it had faded a little, although I still of course remembered the shocking ending.
Bruno is a nine-year-old boy from Berlin who lives with his mother, father and sister. His father receives a promotion, meaning that the whole family have to move away from Berlin, which Bruno is extremely unhappy about. The whole story is told from Bruno’s perspective, and of course, being only nine, he is very naïve and unaware of what’s really going on around him. This is especially interesting because the story is set during WWII, and Bruno’s father is a Nazi officer. Their new home is in a place which Bruno thinks is called ‘Out-With’, but is clearly supposed to be pronounced 'Auschwitz'. Bruno also mistakenly calls the Fuhrer, the ‘Fury’.
From his new bedroom at Out-With, Bruno can see an area where there are hundreds of other people together, all wearing the same striped pyjamas. He’s jealous that they all get to be together, whilst he has no friends. Bored and lonely, Bruno goes out exploring one day, and when he reaches the fence, he encounters another boy his age, called Shmuel, and they strike up a friendship. I don’t want to give anything else away about the book, because it does take a really shocking turn, and a lot of the things that are most effective about the story are because of the way they are told through the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand what’s really going on.
I liked this book a lot, and it also made me cry, which doesn’t happen often for me with books or films. I liked how it was horrifying without being explicit. I think the author gets the voice of Bruno just right. I know that writing from the point of view of a child is quite a popular gimmick for adult novels these days, but for the most part it works really well. I liked the way that sometimes Bruno is not especially likeable, and there are points where he’s really self-cantered and thoughtless, but hey, he’s only nine.
The only parts where it doesn’t work so well are the little misunderstandings Bruno has with the pronunciation of certain words. As I already pointed out, he mistakes 'Fuhrer' and 'Auschwitz' for 'Fury' and 'Out-With'. Not only are these ‘mistakes’ a little contrived, but they also don’t translate properly. John Boyne has obviously written this novel in English, but Bruno presumably speaks German. So the little mistakes he has written into the text translate perfectly well for English, but the ‘sound-a-like’ doesn’t work if you take into account that he would have been speaking German. Probably a silly thing to notice, on my part.
The film seems to have been pretty faithful to the book, as far as I can remember. I think that the ending of the film may have been slightly more shocking, but just as sad. So so sad.
That’s all for now.
Next time: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.