You would be hard pushed to find someone who has never heard of The Boy the in Striped Pyjamas or who has no idea of the themes of which the book is based, but having an idea of what is going on only makes the book better – it would be like knowing Harry Potter is a wizard before reading the series, not detrimental.
However, a knowledge of the history of the Holocaust/ Nazi Germany is vital when reading this, and I fear that those who have a very limited understanding of the history would be unable to enjoy the book to its full. Yes, I know this person would be hard to come by, but if they do exist I feel they will struggle to understand what’s going on.
The story itself is told from the point of view of a 9 year old boy; it is pure innocence lost in the midst of adult on goings. Although a very sad story, it shows the beauty of child innocence, about the challenges adult decisions create for young children, how young minds work and interpret different situations, and the acceptance they have of other human beings.
I was lucky that although I knew the themes of the book, I didn’t know the story – apart from that something bad was going to happen, so with a matter of pages to go at the end I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it to hit me. It did. Even as I read I pleaded with the pages to not tell me what was happening, but in the end it happened anyway.
I found that knowing something bad was about to happen gave the book a new edge, I was constantly waiting for it to come, always aware of how many pages I had left to turn, and the suspense it created throughout the story only made it better. As the book is very short it feels as though it could belong to collection of stories from that period. As though there are more chapters from other people in the camps telling their stories; (I won’t say too much here, so it may be that you need to read the story to understand what I’m going to say), e.g. Bruno’s farther.
One thing that really annoys me with any writing or film which has been ‘inspired by’ or ‘based on’ true events is that there are always critics who claim that ‘it wouldn’t have really happened like that’; ‘it doesn’t resemble the true nature of what happened’. Yes, there is a reason for that. It’s a story. This book is one of those, under scrutiny for not portraying how it really was. But that’s not the point of the book, if I’d wanted a history lesson I would have picked up a fact book. The story is not realistic, it is a story inspired by real events, enjoy it as just that.
(Discussing arm bands)
‘ Yes, but they’re different, aren’t they?’ said Shmuel.
‘No one’s ever given me an armband,’ said Bruno.
‘But I never asked to wear one,’ said Shmuel.
‘All the same,’ said Bruno, ‘I think I’d quite like one. I don’t know which one I’d prefer though, your one or Father’s.’