The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

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John Boyne
David Fickling Books
038560940X
Jan 2006
It�s important � crucially important � not to lose sight of the dual function of historical fiction. It is not its sole preserve to document historically accurate fact � that position is held, to lesser or greater degrees, by history books. Historical fiction aims to make an artistic statement brought into rapid relief alongside the backdrop of history. It�s indisputable value then is that it triggers within readers a shift in perspective.

The ambivalence that surrounds much of the criticism about John Boyne�s first novel, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, seems to arise from an inability to suspend one�s disbelief. As Kellaway asserts in the Observer, �(t)he Holocaust as a subject insists on respect, precludes criticism, prefers silence.� The danger here is respectful silence has an unnerving ability to marginalise the Holocaust from mainstream historical discourse. This can be evidenced by BBC research findings that less than 40% of young people had heard of Auschwitz. Research on the streets of Minsk resulted in similar findings: �I think Auschwitz is a type of hoofed animal�.

Clearly historical treatment of the Holocaust for young people in the main has not resulted in even basic comprehension. The question arises then as to whether fiction has a role to play here and it can easily be argued that it does� Successful fiction captures the imagination, it allows us to live lives that are extraordinary to us. The story of Bruno and Shmuel within �The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas� does exactly that, through it we gain a fresh and new perspective on the Holocaust allowing us to invest our emotional economies, should we divest our interaction with history of this then historiography becomes the realm of arbitrary facts and figures.

This novel is one whose success is grounded within the naivety of its voice. To criticise that and to dismiss Bruno as �thick and unobservant� as Saunders does within The Times is to radically misalign the premise upon which �The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas� operates. As publisher David Fickling comments, �This is a book about innocence walking into darkness�, the at-once emotional and artistic impact of the book occurs as the reader moves through from disbelief to an awareness of the true capacity for humanity to dispossess itself from all respect and compassion. This is not, as Saunders suggests, a novel of �absolutely blush-making vulgarity�, neither is it as Kellaway claims �the first novel ever written for children about the Holocaust�, it is a novel whose ending remains with readers long after the paper pages are finished, it is a novel that inspires thought and difference of opinion, it is a book that deserves to be read, to be discussed, to be held close to the heart�


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This page contains a single entry by Jacob published on January 19, 2006 9:48 AM.

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