Monday, April 19, 2010
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
For the past few months I've been looking at a poster in a fellow teacher's classroom. Two little boys, one in striped pajamas, peering at one another through a barbed wire fence. I was intrigued but, I must admit, thought it would be a silly book about little kids that tugged relentlessly at the heartstrings. Two little friends and the holocaust? Really? I still wanted to read the book, though.
Then my mother got involved. She told me I just had to read it, that she loved it, and thought I would too. Being a dutiful daughter (who, me?) I immediately checked the book out of the school library and devoted a couple hours to it while everyone else was distracted with playoff hockey.
I discovered that there was nothing too maudlin about it at all. On to my three points.
1. It's a fable. Beautifully done. Fables can be irritating for their obvious symbolism and lessons, but this was so artfully constructed that there was a blend between the realism of the piece and the need to create a sort of, oh...how should I say it, simplicity. The characters are on some level two dimensional. But they are supposed to be and this adds to the deeper meaning, the transcendent
nature of the work. Just as I loved the symbolism of Steinbeck's The Pearl, I love the fable constructed here.
2. Clever, but not gimmicky. The clever part about how John Boyne portrayed the holocaust while making the story nonspecific is in his use of how Bruno, the main character, doesn't here the names correctly. For example, the fuhrer becomes "the fury" and Auschwitz becomes "out with." While the adult reader knows what these mistakes allude to, it also allows the reader to see this as a timeless story. Kudos, Boyne, kudos.
3. It was not maudlin! I kept waiting for the waterworks, thinking that I'd be crying shortly into the story with no possible letup until I threw the book across the room in a fit that it had gotten me so mushy. But no. I was okay. Until the second to last chapter. The ending of the story conveys such tenderness amidst evil that Satan himself might mist up. The innocence, the humanity, the universal power of friendship. It was, simply put, stunning.
Today's word? Maudlin: tearfully or weakly emotional; foolishly sentimental. As in: The book wasn't maudlin in the least; rather, it's raw power forced the reader to feel deeply.