First Lines: The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

One afternoon, nine year-old Bruno came home to find the maid packing up all his belongings. Bruno’s Father got a promotion from his boss, The Fury, and now he and his family have to move to the country, to a place called Out-With. Bruno soon finds out he doesn’t like it there. The new house is nowhere near as good as the old one in Berlin, and that strange camp behind it, with all those people living in those huts and that fence that seems to go on forever? No, he’d rather go back. Then, weeks later, he kinda sorta settles in, and goes exploring. But there’s nothing worth seeing. He is about to turn back, when he sees a dot in the distance, which … become[s] a speck, and then began to show every sign of turning into a blob. And shortly after that the blob became a figure. And then, as Bruno got even closer, he saw that the thing was neither a dot nor a speck nor a blob nor a figure, but a person. In fact it was a boy. This boy, Shmuel, wearing filthy striped pyjamas, soon becomes Bruno best friend in the world. But they never get to play together, as the fence is between them, and it would probably be better if Bruno stayed on his side, as the other side wasn’t be greatest place in the world. So they just meet up most afternoons, and sit on both sides of the fence, talking to each other.

Now, then, finally, Mother has had it with this place, and she gets to return to Berlin with Bruno and his sister. While preparing his friend for this goodbye, they come up with a plan to play together, just once. In fact, they’ll go exploring, trying to find Shmuel’s father, who has disappeared. In a pair of striped pyjamas, Bruno slips under the fence, and off they go …

As a fable — Of course all this happened a long time ago. And nothing like that could happen again, not in this day and age. — John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas has a lot going for it. The writing is delightful, Bruno is a excellent oblivious nine-year old (He pushed his two feet together and shot his right arm in the air before clicking his two heels together and saying in a deep and clear voice as possible the words he said every time he left a soldiers presence. Heil Hitler, he said, which, he presumed, was another way of saying, Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon.), and even while I knew the plot twist, it just hit me in the gut. Hard. Its depiction of life in concentration camps is of course historically inaccurate, but that is completely besides the point. As a story, it works, and it works really well.

Book read
John Boyne — The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
First line
One afternoon, when Bruno came home from school, he was surprised to find Maria, the family’s maid — who always kept her head bowed and never looked up from the carpet — standing in his bedroom, pulling all his belongings out of the wardrobe and packing them in four large wooden crates, even the things he’d hidden at the back that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.