Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Review - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Well, my 2015 Reading Resolution was a huge bust. I managed to read all 18 Fullmetal Alchemist books, but not many others from my list... *Sigh.*

The year 2016 started off on the right foot. All the wedding preparations are behind me, so that takes a lot of pressure off my back!

Okay, I just said this year started off well, but the truth is the very first book I read in 2016 made me furious. And not because of the harrowing subject matter itself (the Holocaust), but because of how the author disrespected this subject and...well... any reader's intelligence.

The first book I read in 2016 was The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

**This review contains SPOILERS.**

I've had this book on my "to-read" list for a long time, so when I recently saw it in the bookstore I thought "what the heck." After reading it, I can't fathom how so many people call it a masterpiece.

For starters, the children in the book read more as around six and eight years old instead of the supposed nine and twelve. Bruno, the German main character, is so naive that one cannot help but wonder if he suffers from some sort of mental retardation. I'm not saying this out of malice; I truly wondered if the author meant to portray him as a child with mental difficulties. I suppose the author wanted to show innocence and lack of malice, but it quickly became irritating and patronizing to children. Children aged nine are simply not as oblivious to the world around them as Bruno, and the way the author depicts children makes me think he doesn't have a very high opinion of them in general.

Moreover, with Bruno being the child of a German commandant in charge of Auschwitz, he should know basic concepts such as "Jew" or "Heil Hitler." Instead, he seems oblivious to absolutely everything. I would expect a German child--son of a commandant no less!--to receive a strict fascist education from the get-go. Perhaps already be a part of the Hitler Youth Groups. Instead, all this is overlooked and Bruno doesn't even know the meaning of "Heil" or who "this Hitler man" is.

Another downside in the book was the multiple play on words which only work in English, even though the characters are supposed to be speaking German. Bruno's use of "Out With" instead of Auschwitz gets old very fast, as well as the use of "Fury" for F├╝hrer. These mistakes just don't work because these words are completely different in German so the play on words only makes sense for English speakers. Even so, they're hammered in throughout the book and Bruno even has whole conversations about how he mistakes words--conversations about mistakes that are actually impossible for him to make!

Finally, the last straw for me was when Bruno mistakes the prisoners of Auschwitz for holiday-goers. I couldn't believe what I was reading. I kid you not: Bruno believes the people inside the metal fences aren't doing anything because they're "on holiday." The author, in my opinion, has gone too far. No child aged nine is so self-centered, blind and unobservant. Any child living in those extreme surroundings would be awake enough to know something isn't right. Sadly, this isn't the case for our dear Bruno.

The final pages of the book have been described as a "whirlwind." I feel (just a bit) like a horrible person for saying this, but the moment Bruno decided to cross the fence into the concentration camp, I was looking forward to his death. Even that fell flat. None of the characters were engaging and the piece ended up centered around an annoying boy living his oblivious privileged life until the final paragraphs, where we began to see some of the horrors the prisoners endured. But even then, everything was from Bruno's blundering point of view, and that felt immensely disrespectful to the true victims of the story.

In conclusion, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas felt like a mockery. The arguments "it's from a kid's point of view" and "it's meant to be a fable" are irrelevant to me. I found it offensive and distasteful on so many levels, starting with the way it misrepresents children to the way it skims over the victims of the concentration camp--don't forget that the second main character is a child living inside the concentration camp (a small child who, by the way, would have most probably been sent to the gas chamber during his first month there).

If you're interested in Holocaust stories, do yourself a favor. Skip The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and head straight for a true story, a Pulitzer winner, a masterpiece: Maus by Art Spiegelman.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas frustrated and outraged me so much that I'm going to give it zero Pirates, which is really a shame because just look at that cute widdle face!

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