John Boyne, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, 1941-1945. Ireland: David Fickling Books, 2006 .
Reviewed by Mady Hourihan (Trident Technical College, Charleston, South Carolina)
John Boyne is a forty-six year old Irish novelist who has written sixteen books and one short story, five of which are for young adult readers and eleven are for adults. John was born in Dublin, Ireland, where he still lives today. Boyne has been publishing novels since 2000 and the last novel John Boyne published was 2018 novel, A Latter to the Sky. Boyne’s most famous novel is The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. This book has received over six awards since its release in 2006. This novel is different than what John is used to writing because it is written for a younger audience, but the children’s book has brought Boyne to the rewarding state he is at today.
The 2006 children’s novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, is about a nine year old boy named Bruno. Boyne starts the novel when Bruno returns to his home in Berlin to find the house’s maids packing up their belongings. Bruno learns that his father has been given a job to oversee the camp of Auschwitz, which Bruno mistakenly calls “Out-With.” When the family arrive at the new home, Bruno is disappointed at how dull and unappealing the house is. As Bruno is exploring their new house he sees a nearby camp from a window that appears to have people wearing striped pyjamas. Further in the novel Bruno while out exploring stumbles upon a fence with barbed wire around it, and meets a Jewish boy named Shumel. Bruno and Shmuel begin to talk about their lives, Bruno is curious about why Shumel is in this camp and why he is wearing striped pyjamas. The boys later find out that they both have the same birthday, April 15, 1934.
John Boyne wrote this novel from a young naive boys perspective so that when people are reading, they can see how in this era even young children were blind to the concentration camps throughout Europe. The time period of the novel is between the years of 1941-1945 (WWII/The Holocaust). Boyne likes to describe the book as a fable because fables are fictional books that hold morals. John Boyne says in the Author’s Note that “fences such as the one at the heart of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas still exist; it is unlikely that they will ever fully disappear.” I believe what Boyne is trying to say is that throughout history there have been many “fences” such as race, religion, sexuality, etc. and no matter how many times we try and tear them down they are always going to exist. The “fence” in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas can be seen as two ways. The book takes place literally on both sides of a fence, the side of Bruno and the side of Shumel. The fence at the heart of the novel is that of religion. The setting of the camp is Auschwitz, were Jews, Gypsies, Soviet prisoners of war, Poles, and about twenty five thousand more of other nationalities. The fence is the representation of the separation of people who were in these concentration camps to the people who were outside.
The author’s thesis is the point that the author is trying to prove throughout the novel. In this novel John Boyne is clearly trying to state that there can be friendship between two people where there is not supposed to be. In the book Bruno says to Shumel that they are supposed to be enemies because that is what the his father had taught him, but despite the forbidden friendship, Bruno still came to the fence everyday to see Shumel. Bruno would also bring his companion food whenever he got the chance to, never noticing that was normally the only food that Shumel would be fed. In an interview with Teenreads.com, John Boyne explains what he hopes the story will show his readers, he says, “The genocide of the 1940s was perhaps the worst case of inhumanity that the world has ever seen, but we do not live in a peaceful world even now, 60 years later. I suppose I hoped that younger readers who might be moved by the story of Bruno & Shumel would grow up with the intention of pulling those fences down wherever they existed, whenever they could.”
An author’s biases are when they lean more in the direction in one side than the other. Often times authors and writers will have this attitude without considering what exactly both sides have to say. I do not think John Boyne leans toward either side in this book. I believe rather than picking sides, Boyne tries to understand both sides of the young boys, Bruno and Shumel, in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Although, Boyne writes the story with a third-person point of view, but focuses more from the view point of Bruno. Even though John Boyne is telling this story of Bruno and his family, he still is not picking sides. I think the author made the book very persuasive, the mood of the book made you feel what the characters were feeling and Boyne made you feel like you feel like you were just as much apart of the story as Bruno and Shumel.
In Teenreeds interview, John Boyne explains some of his sources behind The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Boyne says, “As an Irishman growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was only too aware of the divides — the fences — that existed in my own country, and that caused violence and killing for families throughout Northern Ireland for too many years. And while those problems have for the most part been solved, it is easy to identify situations around the world throughout my own lifetime.” John Boyne uses his own life to pour into the book. In the novel, Bruno and Shumel discover they had the same birthday, April 15, 1934. This date happens to be the date Boynes father was born, which was a way Boyne could feel connected to the characters. John says in the interview that the date chosen in the book was to show the young age and innocence of the boys and using his father’s birthdate allowed him to personalize himself with the book. John also says in the interview, “By using his birthday and knowing how the story would inevitably end, I was able to personalise the story a little more for myself, imagining the lives and families that either Bruno or Shmuel might have had, the age they would be today, the experiences their lives would have brought to them.”
John Boyne used a very specific and distinct methodology in the writing process of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. For example, John Boyne has Bruno refer to Auschwitz as “Out-With” and he refers to Hitler as “The Fury,” which is the mispronouncing of the