I heard John Boyne was a hot new Irish author, and the The Boy in the Striped Pajamas was his latest and greatest, so I decided to give it try. I found it disorienting at first. Bruno is nine, yet he is naive as a six or seven year old. He somehow doesn’t catch on when “The Fury” transfers his father and family a from WWII Berlin to make him commandant of “Out-With” that they are at a concentration camp. Bruno doesn’t even catch on when, lonely and looking for playmates, he strikes up conversations with a prison-suited boy on the other side of a chain-link fence.
Not only are his clothes striped, but he wears a yellow arm band inscribed with a Star of David. Bruno also has a tutor dedicated to steering him away from the arts and toward the true history of the fatherland.
What are we to make of this anomaly, then? I made a fable of it. A fable can encompass all kinds of contradictions not available to “reality.” Once I made the adjustment, it was okay for Bruno to believe that Schmuel simply lived in another city or village across the fence, much like his own. He could notice the hunger, but feel no responsibility for it. In that context, Bruno would stand metaphorically for the almost-willful ignorance of so many Germans about the horrors going on in their midst. There are many family conflicts over the situation. Bruno’s grandmother abhors and objects to the whole thing, but she dies soon. His mother retreats into naps and sherry. His father overcompensates by becoming more and more the bully. And Bruno finally obeys the urge to crawl under the fence and visit Schmuel’s world. Bad idea. But the world is not made for the poor or the innocent. Just when you thought there wasn’t a possible new take on the Nazi’s, here’s another. Not quite new, I guess, but not The Inglorious Basterds either.
Anyhow, it’s another cautionary tale, and maybe someone will pay attention to it, but I’ll bet not.