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116 of 144 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sadly the central figure is too implausible, May 11, 2007
This review is from: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (Paperback)
The subtitle of this book is `A Fable', and so I suppose we are not meant to look for too much realism in this Holocaust story. Possibly (so one review suggests) written for children, its subject matter is grim enough; but its tone, especially at the beginning, put me off: it is faux-naive and painfully arch; and there are too many unbelievable aspects of it. The central character is nine-year old Bruno. The first false note is struck when Bruno learns that `the Fury' has big things in mind for his father, who is a high-ranking member of the SS and is in fact being posted, with his family, from Berlin to become the Commandant at Auschwitz. Of course it is ludicrous that a nine-year old in Nazi Germany would have misheard - not just once but persistently - `the Fury' for the Führer or `Out-With' for Auschwitz (the puns don't work in German anyway). In 1943 a little German boy, especially one whose father was in the SS, would have been in the Pimpfen, the section of the Hitler Youth for six to ten year olds, where he would already have learnt to worship the Führer; he would have learnt the notion of the Fatherland, which in this novel seems to puzzle him; he would most likely have followed the campaigns of the German army on maps and would have known (as he doesn't) where Poland was; and he would already have become familiar, at least in the abstract, with the concept of Untermenschen - instead of which he doesn't even know what a Jew is, and, when his sister mentions the word, he asks her whether he and she were Jews! He had lived in the Commandant's house at Auschwitz for a whole year - and we are to believe that he had never heard the word!

Some parts of the book are a little more credible. A child would probably not have known what it was dangerous to say (though I have to say that, as a nine-year old myself in Nazi Germany, I did have a pretty good sense of that.) Many Germans, and especially children, would not have known of the horrors of the concentration camps and would have been as uncomprehending as Bruno was of what they saw: the ghost-like creatures on the other side of the barbed wire fence which separated the camp from the neat garden of the Commandant's house.

Bruno hates his new home. For one thing, there are no other children for him to play with. And then one day Bruno disobeys orders and goes `exploring' along the fence and at the far end and on the other side of it he meets Shmuel - the boy (of exactly the same age as Bruno) in the striped pyjamas - who is sitting there all on his own, and they meet in that spot and talk regularly thereafter for a year. Shmuel understands the difference between their situations well enough, but Bruno is impossibly naive and obtuse in picking up the meaning of what his new friend is telling him, though something tells him that he should not tell his family of these meetings. He remains innocent until the end.

Of course the heart of the author is in the right place; and he does convey the horror of the camps; but I could not suspend my disbelief in Bruno - and without that ability, the book did not work for me either as a fable or as a credible story, and so I have some reservation about this flawed way of dealing with the Holocaust.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-10 of 43 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Nov 12, 2008 7:19:43 AM PST
I agree that exaggerations of innocence and naivete can be trivializing and even dangerous. They are a Pollyanna approach to notions of guilt and responsibility and can lead to the sort of blanket forgiveness that glosses over true evil. I have not read this book and now I am not sure that I want to. I am curious about this reviewer's opinion of "The Book Thief" and its ability to walk the fine line between explication and excuse.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 12, 2008 11:50:46 PM PST
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 8, 2008 7:57:08 PM PST
Karris says:
If you think nine-year-olds are responsible, politically or idealistically, for the sins of their fathers, you're the one who is incredibly naive. If you think they are, then that leads to a world where child labor, child crime, child responsibility is all on an adult level and acceptable. Oh wait, that's the conservative agenda, isn't it?

A lot of kids DO live in a Pollyanna world - it's called CHILDHOOD.

Posted on Dec 10, 2008 7:51:43 PM PST
Most works of imagination lack "reality" - and in this self-styled fable, the author does not ever suggest that this meant to be a comprehensive report. A nine-year-old is naive because he has no power to change anything in his world, even if he would. He makes sense of it in any way he can, and assumes, as most children do, that adults "know better." By addressing the Holocaust, the author is keeping alive what for younger children is very ancient history. The only "flawed way of dealing with the Holocaust" is silence.

Posted on Dec 13, 2008 2:49:11 PM PST
Mynette says:
You have an unusual view of the times included in such a book. I, for one, did not have much knowledge of the times in Germany as they pertained to children, even though I have read many Holocaust novels. Your perspective is important, but as a "fable" it is not so important to most of the readers of this book. The message is what is of real import.

Posted on Dec 14, 2008 5:36:48 AM PST
I have read some of the postings listed here today and I am glad to say that I seen the movie last night, and I plan on purchasing the novel. This movie has touched me in a way that spoke to my soul I for one being an African-American women coming from a history of a different nature but can truly relate to this message. Whether anyone wants to believe the book or the movie or whatever.. the fact is that this happened. Just as slavery, just as war or the feeling of a superior race. We all tend to forget the true meaning of this story and that is what it is like to see this monsterous act through the eyes of a child written from the writer's view, that is why this Country is great we are all entitled to our views whether it is true or not and it doesn't have to be up to the expectations of others..the important message is this happen and we as a world must always remember and truly never forget and to make sure that it never happens again!!

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 29, 2008 7:33:08 AM PST
If you haven't read the book, I suggest that you refrain from copmmenting un til you do. And, if you do not read it, then make no comment.

Posted on Jan 2, 2009 3:49:06 AM PST
I have not read this book or seen the movie. I have only seen the movie trailers & found them interesting. I love all things history & tend to lean toward movies & books that involve major historical events. I find the review written by Mr. Blumenau utterly fascinating!! Who but someone who was actually THERE, can explain life as they knew it, at approximately the same age as Bruno?! I tend to lean toward his views to judge the book & movie prior to reading it. Im assuming from the brief statements made that Mr. Blumenau did not have to be "branded" with the yellow star. So he should know how Bruno's childhood would paralel with his own. As a Native American Indian, my ancestors have faced bigotry, racisim, & broken promises from the government. Even today, it's still there. I know that he has probably faced ridicule for his family supporting the "furher". I just think that those of us who know NOTHING of living in this area of the world when it was a hotbed of turmoil, should listen to the man who has. Unfortunately, from this review by Mr. Blumenau, I dont think I will read this book. I want something realistic, that portrays the actual childhood of each side of the "fence". Be it a realistic view from a child in Aushwitz to a young boy caught up in the Hitler youth because his father is part of the SS. More children need to realize the fact that life wasnt & isnt always a POLLYANNA view. Life is precious, short, & PRICELESS!!

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 2, 2009 4:32:10 AM PST
Debra: Just to clear up a misunderstanding: I am Jewish, and so there are NO parallels between Bruno's childhood and my own. It was only because my family left Germany early enough - in 1936 - that I was spared the yellow star and the concentration camp.

Posted on Jan 5, 2009 6:52:17 AM PST
Gawaine says:
Thanks for the information. I've been considering this book, with some others, as readings for my homeschooled middle-schooler, who's going to be studying the WWII period over the next month. It sounds like we'd be better served by just spending more time at the Holocaust museum in DC.
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