Once in a while you read a book that scrapes a raw nerve right in the centre of your heart and leaves it exposed and bleeding… for all times to come.The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is one such book. Filed under ‘a-book-for-keeps’ category, it’s a book that is dramatic in its simplicity, mature in its innocence and heartrending in its factual tone and manner.
There are enough books, reports, films and recordings of the gruesomeness of war but not many take the unique perspective that this one takes. Set in the time of the second world war, it’s a look at Germany from the viewpoint of innocence – through the eyes of a nine-year old boy Bruno.
As the family moves to another location, the import of which import Bruno does not understand right till the very end, Bruno struggles with the curiosity and loneliness of a boy his age and over a period of time makes friends with a boy ‘across the fence’ who shares the same birthday as his. How much different could they be, he wonders, and yet his new friend is on the other side of the fence and they cannot really play together.
What the book brings out in its stark innocence is the horrors of the war, the unsaid atrocities of the Holocaust and the simple truth that sometimes the ones who get caught in the crossfire of an adult issue are children.
For a nine-year-old boy who lives in the midst of a warring nation – being shielded from the gruesome aspects of war is the very reason why he himself becomes the victim of it. The end is almost anti-climactic in its simplicity. The naivete of the two boys as they promise to remain ‘friends for life’ pulls violently at the heartstrings as darkness descends.
The book in its sheer simplicity ends with these telling words, “Of course all this happened a long time ago. And nothing like this can ever happen again. Not in this day and age.”
Yes may be. Not on this scale but if you come down to warring adults and innocent children, it does continue.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a must-read for every adult. It’s a must-reflect-on, must-think-about, must-not-ever-forget kind of a book. Like I said in the beginning, it exposes a raw nerve and leaves it like that. But I am glad I own a copy. Thanks NB.