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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas: a fable    by John Boyne order for
Boy in the Striped Pajamas
by John Boyne
Order:  USA  Can
David Fickling Books, 2006 (2006)
Hardcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

There have been so many books (and movies) centered on the Holocaust that it's hard to imagine a new slant on events. But, in his fable set in 1942, John Boyne offer readers a unique and touching perspective, by looking at the horror of Auschwitz through the eyes of a naive nine-year-old. Bruno, son of the camp's newly appointed Commandant, pronounces its name Out-With (his name for the Fuhrer, Hitler, is appropriately enough Fury).

In Berlin, when Bruno tells Mother he doesn't want to leave his best friends, she tells him that he'll 'make other friends', a true prediction as events unfold. Though she's obviously unhappy about the move herself, Mother tells Bruno they 'have to make the best of a bad situation.' In their new home, Bruno sees many people in huts in the distance all dressed in striped pajamas. When he asks Father about them, he's told, 'They're nothing to do with you', but he's disturbed by their appearance. Also Bruno - who considers his older sister Gretel 'a Hopeless Case' is lonely and wants to be an explorer when he grows up.

His elders are all self absorbed as they deal with the horror of their surroundings in different ways (Father is busy with his work, Mother takes to sherry and Gretel flirts with a Lieutenant). So one day, Bruno goes exploring in a forbidden direction - he follows the fence and eventually, in a deserted section, encounters Shmuel on the other side. Though Bruno 'had never seen a skinnier or sadder boy in his life', a friendship develops and they meet often. Bruno shares food and stories with Shmuel but never comprehends what life is like inside the fence. Mother finally insists on taking the children back to Berlin, but before they go, Bruno visits Shmuel and the young explorer plans a final adventure with his 'best friend for life'.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is an elegant fable (for all ages), in which the innocence of both children reminded me of the Jewish-Italian boy in the movie, Life is Beautiful. Friendship and innocence are also beautiful, even in the most horrific surroundings. In an Author's Note at the end, John Boyne speaks sadly of the fences that still exist and tells us the 'untold stories must continue to be recounted' of 'the ones who didn't live to tell their stories themselves.'

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