The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne tells the tale of Bruno, a nine-year-old son of a Nazi officer who, in befriending a Jewish child his own age in a concentration camp, ends up tied up in his fate.
The novel begins with Bruno returning home from school to find that their belongings are being packed up. Though he doesn't know it yet, this is because his father is being sent to occupy a supervising position at Auschwitz. Bruno, who is the novel's narrator, does not want to leave, and realizes soon enough that their new home is obscure and filled with strange rules. Boundaries are set up for him at every turn, and he is told he cannot enter certain off limits portions of their house.
Bruno's older sister, Gretel, meanwhile, is far more indoctrinated by Nazi ideology than he. At 12 years old, she becomes enamored with Lieutenant Kotler, a Nazi soldier who frequently comes by the house. He is also disturbed, or perhaps confused by, the fierce Anti-Semitism espoused by his and Gretel's in house tutor, Herr Liszt.
As the book continues on, Bruno ends up breaking the rules set out by his parents to explore the concentration camp. From his bedroom window, he convinces himself that the prisoners are really people working on a farm in their pajamas. He follows the barbed wire fence for a bit until he encounters a boy named Shmuel. The two hit off quickly, and discover they have the same birthday: April 15, 1934. The conversation the two have is an exchange of perceptions common to young children. Bruno ends up becoming distraught at the idea that there are multiple children his own age in the camp besides Shmuel, thinking it unfair, and promises to speak with his father on the matter.
As the days progress, Bruno continues to bring Shmuel food. Bruno asks Shmuel to climb under the fence so that he can play with him at his house, but Shmuel refuses. In an emotional scene, Shmuel shows up at Bruno's house, but only as a servant. Bruno sneaks Shmuel some food. When Lieutenant Koter catches him eating it, however, he accuses him of stealing, and Bruno stands by helpless as his friend is beaten before his eyes.
In the weeks that follow, Bruno's mother is worn down by the prospect of raising a child in Auschwitz, particularly when her husband begins ordering the deaths of prisoners. When she asks to return to Berlin, however, Bruno is not as happy about the prospect as he would have been before, due to his relationship with Shmuel. When it is decided he will leave, however, he goes to tell his friend of the news. By this point, Shmuel's father is missing, and Bruno feels compelled to help him find him.
The two quickly concoct a scheme. Bruno brings a shovel to the fence and digs under it, in order to enter the concentration camp. Bruno takes in the reality of the concentration camp, and begins to get scared. The two decided that they should escape immediately, but before they can do so, they are herded into a line with other prisoners, forced to undress, and hurried into the gas chambers.
In the final pages of the book, Bruno's family searches for their son, only to find a pile of his clothing near a hole in the fence. She returns to Berlin, and her husband, Bruno's father, ends up going missing with a group of soldiers. The book ends on a somber note, warning of remembering the horrors of the past as to not repeat them in the future.
Best part of story, including ending:
I liked the fable quality to it.
Best scene in story:
I think the last scene, when the children die, is disturbing in its poignancy.
Opinion about the main character:
I think it was an interesting choice to narrate a holocaust story from the vantage of young Bruno, a German child. Not sure if the experiment worked, but it was interesting.
The Boy In the Striped Pajama's is ultimately more about the young boy, Bruno, growing up in a world he doesn't fully understand. Bruno's father has been made the head of a concentration camp, and the family is forced to relocate from Berlin to just beyond the edge of the camp. Coping with isolation, Bruno eventually wanders towards the camp and meets another boy roughly his own age who always wears "pajamas." The two become friends, although neither Bruno or the boy in the pajama's understand the ramifications of their friendship.
The book doesn't delve much into the war-it is told from the perspective of a young boy who doesn't understand what's happening-but focuses on the sudden changes of a family where the father is a top Nazi guard, the mother on the edge of a breakdown and a sister who believes all Nazi propaganda as truth. Bruno questions these aspects of his life in a way that only a small child could.