I’m actually surprised I haven’t read this earlier since it is a fairly well known novel dealing with the Holocaust, a topic I always tend to gravitate towards. Perhaps it was the fact that it seemed to be very much marketed for a younger audience (not that this prevented me from reading and loving The Book Thief). Upon completing the novel, I thought this felt like a fairy tale of the Holocaust until I flipped back to the front and noticed the title page actually read as “The Boy in Striped Pajamas: A Parable.” Boyne mixes realism with events that could maybe have happened because some crazy unbelievable things happened involving the Holocaust, but mostly feel like something that never could have taken place, at least not for a prolonged period of time. As a result, I think adding that word parable to the title helps – Boyne isn’t trying to give his readers an entirely accurate impression of the Holocaust but wants to tell a small personal story involving the Holocaust.
Bruno, the main character, is nine years old when his father gets a promotion, and the family has to move from their large home in Berlin to a smaller house in “Outwith.” His father has been placed in charge of a camp, and Bruno has a view of this camp from his bedroom window, where he can see lots of people in striped pajamas. While Bruno hates his new home, the lack of friends and the soldiers that are constantly in and out of the house to speak with his father, he eventually decides to explore and walks the perimeter of the fence around the camp until he sees a boy in striped pajamas on the other side. Bruno and Shmuel strike up a conversation, and continue to meet every day, each on their side of the fence.