Well, that was depressing.
I've read enough WWII novels to know that they don't usually have happy endings, but this one blindsided me. Possibly because it was in the young adult section of the bookstore, and the endings of young adult books are usually more hopeful. Maybe I missed it, but I couldn't find much hope in this.
This book is about nine-year-old Bruno. His family moves from Berlin to "Out-With," and he makes friends with a boy who lives on the other side of a big fence.
Depending on how you look at it, this book could have a lot to criticize. Is it historically accurate? No. Are the child characters realistic? No. Are there believability problems? Yes, tons of them (such as the hole in the unpatrolled fence). Is there English wordplay that wouldn't translate to German? Yes, tons of it. Is the writing style unusual? Yes. Is the author heavy-handed with delivering his message? Yes.
None of that bothered me because I didn't see this book as historical fiction. It is a modern-day fable. Like many fables, it is told from a third-person omniscient viewpoint, so there is distance between the reader and the characters. The reader is a helpless observer, just like Bruno is a helpless observer. Like many fables, there is wordplay and repetition and simplistic language. The moral is made very clear: no group of people is better than any other group of people. By using English wordplay, not being historically accurate, and not using the name of the camp, the author shows that the message applies to the entire world and not just to Nazi Germany. People are being treated inhumanely all over the world, even today.
This is not historical fiction. This is a work of art. In my opinion, the best artwork is controversial and makes people think. Successful artwork sparks passionate responses. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
does that. I love the juxtaposition between Bruno's innocence and the horrors being committed on the other side of the fence. Other people will disagree, but I think that this book is a brilliant work of art.