The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

book_cover The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is a haunting novel for various reasons. The story plays off during the WWII Holocaust and is told from the perspective of a 9 year old boy who strikes up a friendship with a boy in the striped pyjamas. What does it mean to wear striped pyjamas?

Bruno’s father is a Nazi commandant who gets a promotion and they have to move from Berlin to Auschwitz, Poland. Having to leave his friends behind, Bruno finds himself alone and no one to play with at their new home. He notices a “farm” close by and asks his mother if he is allowed to play with the children on the farm. He does realize that the people on the farm are a bit strange as they wear striped pyjamas. The only problem is, it’s not a farm, but the death camp Auschwitz.

Playing with his sister, Gretel isn’t an option, so he starts doing what he loves best – exploring and came across a young boy his age, Shmuel, sitting on the other side of the fence. Bruno and Shmuel develop a friendship. Bruno is ignorant about what goes on and why Shmuel has to stay on the other side of the fence. However he visits Shmuel daily and takes along food for him to eat.

The story is heart breaking and poignant as we read about the events of WWII from the perspective of innocent children who are not aware of why and what is happening. The story ends in tragedy, a big “moral of the story” which for the purpose of not giving spoilers I won’t disclose. I am however sure that many of you have seen the movie or read the book and know why I say this.

WxsjZEfTF1g.movieposterI have also seen the movie, which I absolutely LOVED! I might like the movie more than the book. I think that that the acting was great. I have to say that with the movie and the book the ending or some parts of the novel might not make full sense if you don’t have some background about what happened in the WWII Holocaust. I have seen the movie with my 11 year old nephew and I had to explain to him what the ending alluded to.

Have you read the book or seen the movie? I cried myself a river! Let me know your thoughts.

Image sources: book cover and movie

  • I loved this book, but I haven’t seen the movie. I would like to, though, especially now that I know it is as good as the book. I have been afraid that it would be too sad or ‘grown up’ for the kids. What age do you think would be too young?

    • I think the movie is better! The movie is sad, it really haunts you. The film does not have any disturbing graphic content, so I think a child can watch it. The ending, just like the book, only alludes to what really happens to Bruno. I had to explain to my nephew what they did to exterminate Jews, but I tried to tell him in a sensitive way and he still had the implausible look on his face. I do think that watching the movie and having the discussion afterwards is educational for him. He also told me they are covering WWII, Hitler etc next year (he is 11). I think it will upset the kids if you let them watch it (which is probably fine, because it is upsetting for anyone), but I do think that they need to know the history. I guess I wouldn’t let a child under 10 watch it though, not because of the film’s contents, but because they will ask questions and you’ll have to explain those terrible events of the past.

  • lazycoffees

    The movie was one of the most moving films I have seen. I should imagine that reading the book would give an even deeper insight into the story, Thanks for reminding me of it.

    • I think the movie did justice to the book, maybe even exceeded my expectations. It’s a very moving film and I’ll probably watch it over and over again.

  • Jennine G.

    I used to show this movie I my junior high character education classes, but suddenly one year I couldn’t watch it again. My son had reached the characters’ ages and it got harder to watch than ever before. Heartbreaking to know that so many such stories probably happened.

    • No matter how much I read about the topic, it just remains so hard to imagine that it all really happened. I think that’s also my fascination with the topic. Have you let your kids watch it?

      (please see my reply to Naomi)

      • Jennine G.

        My daughters, yes. They understand some of the history from school. My son I haven’t. He is almost ten, but he is sensitive to shows with children being harmed. I don’t know if it’s his age or just his personality. We watched a movie with a young girl dying of cancer and he had to leave the room, he was so upset. But I do understand that incomprehensible look you described your nephew having. Shows with big history, I’ve had the same reaction from my kids at some point.

  • Anita LeBeau

    My son discovered this book in elementary school, and I read it a little ahead of him, and he was crying at the end. I cried at the end of the movie too. So very well done and tender.

    • The way they portray the relationship between the two boys in the movie was very tender and touching. I think that is what makes this movie so memorable! Even though Schindler’s List is a great movie, it’s disturbing and not nearly as touching as this one.

  • Els (

    My Dutch-ness shows, because I was thinking “explaining the holocaust? Wut? Don’t kids just know that by that age”. But it is way more drenched into or educational system and culture here, I suppose.

    I saw the movie and it was so… Impressive. It was the only movie I ever saw in the theatre where all the people stayed seated in silence until the credits were over. Haven’t read the book, and I’m not sure if I will, especially after you mentioning the movie was better (for you). So many books to read, so little time!

    • Yes, it isn’t that drenched into educational system, or what I remember of it (I’m old!). I think Hitler and the WWII were only covered later in primary school. He had some background about Hitler, but it’s the finer elements that he did not understand, like what the movie alluded to in the end. I hope he enjoys the history, when they eventually get taught it. However, “enjoy” might not be the right word to use.

      The movie is fantastic yes and I can image that people would be stunned by it. I guess reading the book isn’t that much of a priority for you. Happy reading, Els 🙂

  • Bookheathen

    I have seen the film and your review pretty much covers it. I probably won’t read the book now.

    • The film is so well done, that I do think if you don’t read the book, you won’t miss much. But because I love books, if you ever get a chance, do give it a quick read.

  • I think the book broke me a little, I loved it. I don’t think I could bring myself to watch the film, I’d cry all the way through for sure.

    • I can imagine. The movie will have you very emotional at the end, but throughout the movie there are some scenes that really pulls on your heartstrings. It was fantastic!

  • I haven’t read this but am freaking out a little because it is so reminiscent of a new book I read this fall called Gretel and the Dark. The same kind of premise where a young person had no understanding that what they were living next to was a concentration camp. It was amazing so now I think I need to read this novel as well!

    • I’m on Google and goodreads now to read up on Gretel and the Dark. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it in a catalogue or someone’s review!
      Catherine, I think that you would like this novel and the movie. It’s heartbreaking, but it’s very good.

  • Ciska van der Lans

    This one is still on my to read shelf.Good to hear you liked it a lot.

    • I’m sure you’ll finish it in a matter of hours. It’s a beautiful story, but I really enjoyed the movie a lot more.