|Purchase: Amazon | Chapters|
Genre: Historical Fiction
Started: Aug. 12, 2011
Finished: Aug. 15, 2011 (4 days)
Where Found: Chapters-Indigo
Why Read: On my TBR list
Read For: What's in a Name 4 challenge (6/6)
Summary: A young boy whose father is a Nazi soldier supervising Auschwitz during WWII secretly befriends a Jewish boy on the other side of the camp's fence.
A quick disclaimer: I am not here to contest the novel's historical accuracy or to defend any interests in or against the novel. I am simply reviewing the novel as a piece of literature. Any feelings represented here are my own and not meant to offend any party.
First of all, I must commend John Boyne for venturing into a territory that represents the darkest, most regrettable time in the history of our planet. Any writer who writes about the Holocaust is braving not only an emotionally draining experience but potentially sensitive reactions from readers, especially in Boyne's case, as he is writing in the genre of historical fiction, taking a true event and creating fiction within it. There are controversies surrounding the circumstances Boyne presents in the novel, such as the ages of children kept in the concentration camps, the use of electric fences that would considerably hinder Bruno and Shmuel's relationship, Bruno's startling lack of knowledge and common sense (even for a 9-year-old), and the wrenching ending that shocks and surprises you even if you have a slight idea of what will occur.
As a teacher, I am perfectly willing to accept Bruno's naivete as part of his character--there are indeed children that age (and even that of his 12-year-old sister, Gretel) who are less than knowledgeable about current events. Case in point: A 9-year-old student of mine asked why we were at war in Vietnam...during the current Iraq war. And he was very sure of himself. Children can certainly mix up facts and mishear names or are so adamant of their correctness that they refuse to accept any alternative. I feel that Bruno's continued use of Fury and Out-With in place of the actual names is not because of this, but to drive home the point that children have their own notions of reality and that they will recall their own ideas more prevalently than the real ones. Or you can simply accept a willing suspension of disbelief.
There is a lot of insight gained from this slim novel that only accounts from Holocaust survivors, such as Elie Wiesel, can surpass with the harsh truth of their experience. By taking the point of view of a child, especially one as naive as Bruno, Boyne creates the story's angle from that of an outsider, even one as close to the front lines as Bruno. This may sound pretentious but I felt that Bruno was metaphorically representing those who did not experience the Holocaust firsthand--we are on the other side of the fence, looking in and are not entirely sure what it was like. But of course, we are also adults and children's perspectives can be a harsh hue of black & white (though sometimes they can be surprisingly insightful).
From a literary standpoint, Boyne created an equally fascinating set of characters--ones that read well, are sympathetic, and insightful, and those that are terrifying, belligerent, and overbearing. His style is deliberately sparse, keeping the story as simple as a morality tale, then blind-siding us with a powerful ending that puts the entire story into perspective.
I also want to point out that I read this book in partnership with Night by Elie Wiesel, which I will be reviewing soon. Reading them one after the other seems harrowing but was incredible and could not be a better match in terms of impactful novels about the Holocaust.
Rank: (A+)- Amazing, Must-Read