December 19, 2013
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Rabbi Benjamin Blech described the book ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’ as “not just a lie and not just a fairytale, but a profanation”. Despite the book’s intentions, he argues, the plot is highly improbable and gives credence to the defence that people did not, and could not, know what was happening within the death camps. Students who read it, he warns, may believe the camps “weren’t that bad” if a boy could conduct a clandestine friendship with a Jewish captive of the same age, unaware of “the constant presence of death”.Otherwise, the historian David Cesarani said about the book that “Perhaps it is too heavy”: “In 2006 John Boyne, a professional writer with several novels to his name, published The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, a ‘fable’ that drew on the Nazi persecution and mass murder of Europe’s Jews.
“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas resembles another controversial film ‘fable’ of the Holocaust, Life is Beautiful, written and directed by Roberto Benigni. That, too, was a travesty of the facts justified by the exposé of racism. Yet many critics applauded Benigni for his fantastic and comedic approach on the grounds that it took a grim subject to a bigger audience than would normally be the case. Many Jews shared this admiration. Within the Jewish world there is a belief that the wider community can only be induced to recall the fate of the Jews because it offers lessons for avoiding similar catastrophes and may blunt prejudice. Why else should the world grieve over six million dead Jews? Numerous politicians, educationalists, and creative figures have been persuaded by this argument. Unfortunately, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, like a host of other well-intentioned initiatives, suggests that a heavy price is being paid for the popularisation and instrumentalisation of the Holocaust. Perhaps it is too heavy.”
In Kathryn Hughes opinion, “One of the great triumphs of this book is the way that John Boyne manages the shift in register from the intensely concrete inner world of his child narrator – a place where an elder sister’s pigtails or the corner of a bedroom window are branded on your inner eye – to something that borders on fable. It turns out, for instance, that both Bruno and Schmuel were born on the same day, at a stroke turning them into narrative doubles and psychic twins. And then there is the oddness of Auschwitz security being so lax that a child prisoner could make a weekly date with the commandant’s son without anyone noticing.
Any slight bumps in tone are smoothed away as the narrative definitively slips anchor and moves into its final urgent stages. Schmuel’s father goes missing inside the camp, and Bruno, with his Explorer credentials, insists on helping to find him. Putting on a spare pair of striped pyjamas and scrambling under a loose piece of netting, Bruno is finally able to join Shmuel on the other side of the fence and becomes lost for ever.”