By John Boyne. Grade A
When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences
As my mood for Holocaust fiction didn’t seem to end, I picked this book up which has been long waiting to be read in my ‘To-Read’ list. In fact, I withheld myself from watching the movie version because I felt the book would be even better. And it didn’t fail to impress me. This is one of those rare books that will stay etched in your mind and leaves you wondering with “What-if”s at any random moment of your thoughts.
The story is told from Bruno’ point of view, a 9 year old who has just recently moved to ‘Out-with’ (That’s how he pronounces the location of one of the Nazi’s concentration camps, the readers are left to decide what this place is), thanks to his father’s promotion for his outstanding work done for ‘The Fury'(Another of Bruno’s misunderstanding of the word ‘Fuhrer’). He is not happy to leave his friends in Berlin and is even more unhappy to see the barren, dull and lonely new house that ensures him of no company for the ‘foreseeable future’. But he is surprised to see that he does have an opportunity to make a new friend when he meets Shmuel, who lives on the other side of the fence that separates Bruno’s house from what looks like a festive place of activities!
The workings of the mind of a 9 year old has been beautifully crafted by the author and not once do you get a hint that the story is actually written by an adult. Bruno is a good boy, he knows how to treat people and not to discriminate people, though he has watched many, including his father, do it. He longs for company in the forsaken land of dullness that he believes, will drive him mad one day. And this yearning has been bought out aptly. The friendship between Bruno and Shmuel is full of childlike innocence. The other characters like Gretel, Bruno’s Elder sister (The Hopeless Case of the household), Mother, the expensive maid, the waiter cum ex-doctor Paval who has been ever so gentle with Bruno are all characters you wouldn’t forget. You have seen them in your life too, albeit the circumstances be different. That’s what makes this book special. The author reminds one of the harsh and ruthless realities of this period, painting a vivid picture of life at concentration camps.
The naiveté of Gretel and Bruno can sometimes be a little tiring but that did not blemish my overall opinion about the book. Similarly, after reading about the severe security in the concentration camps in so many articles, I find it a little hard to believe that two kids could easily have had meetings for an year without anyone noticing them. Though the ending of the book is foreseeable, especially in the last 25-30 pages, you desperately hope you are wrong. But that doesn’t stop it from happening and at the end all you can think of is “Oh Karma!”