And John Boyne is to be commended for tackling a frightening story that needs to be told to teenagers today in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas -- a fictional account of the Nazi era that uses the powerful device of a tale told from the perspective of its nine year old hero. Although the publisher insists that all reviewers not reveal its story, the back cover promises "As memorable an introduction to the subject as The Diary of Anne Frank." And indeed the writing is gripping.The style, sharing with Anne Frank the distinctive voice of youth, is extremely effective.One can readily understand why the book has had such a strong impact on countless readers, become required reading in high school Holocaust courses round the country, and is about to be released as a major motion picture. How should one react to a book that ostensibly seeks to inform while it so blatantly distorts?
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Without giving away the plot, it is enough to tell you that Bruno, the nine-year-old son of the Nazi Commandant at Auschwitz (never identified by that name, but rather as "Out-With" -- a lame pun I think out of place in context) lives within yards of the concentration camp his father oversees and actually believes that its inhabitants who wear striped pajamas -- oh, how lucky, he thinks, to be able to be so comfortably dressed --spend their time on vacation drinking in cafes on the premises while their children are happily playing games all day long even as he envies them their carefree lives and friendships!
And, oh yes, this son of a Nazi in the mid 1940's does not know what a Jew is, and whether he is one too!
And after a year of surreptitious meetings with a same-aged nine-year-old Jewish boy who somehow manages every day to find time to meet him at an unobserved fence (!
The Holocaust is inexorably moving from personal testimony to textual narrative.
Survivors, those who clung to life no matter how unbearable so that they could confirm the unimaginable and attest to the unbelievable, are harder to find after more than half a century.
It is the written word that will have to substitute for the heart-rending tales of woe shared by those who endured hell on earth.That is, after all, all that will remain of six million victims. They must speak for those who cannot, but whose suffering demands to be remembered and whose deaths cry out for posthumous meaning.Their task transcends the mere recording of history. Holocaust literature, like the biblical admonition to remember the crimes of Amalek, deservedly rises to the level of the holy.For that reason I admire anyone who is courageous enough to attempt to deal with the subject.No, there will never be too many books about this dreadful period we would rather forget.No, we have no right to ignore the past because it is unpleasant or refuse to let reality intrude on our preference for fun and for laughter.