Monthly Archives: December 2013

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

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stripedpyjamasBruno is nine years old when his father is transferred to a new job. The German family packs up their belongings and moves to Out-With. The first time Bruno looks out his new bedroom window and sees the low huts with so many people all milling about in striped pyjamas, you realize that his childlike mind has changed Auschwitz into Out-With; and that his father is the commandante of a concentration camp and that he has no idea what any of it means.

I loved the innocence that a child’s vocabulary brought to such a dark part of history. Listen to his description of Hitler, “The Fury was far shorter than Father and not, Bruno supposed, quite as strong. He had dark hair, which was cut quite short, and a tiny moustache- so tiny in fact that Bruno wondered why he bothered with it at all or whether he had simply forgotten a piece when he was shaving.” His little thoughts were enchanting and I found myself smiling and giggling along with him.

There were times that his ignorance broke my heart, and times when I was glad he had no idea what was going on around him.

Overall it was a good book. It made you think differently about things, and wonder what life was like on both sides of the fence. The only thing I disagreed with a bit was that it seemed to me that the majority of the people wished they weren’t Nazis. There was one particularly unkind guard at the camp, but other than that, most of the adults disagreed with Bruno’s father. Or were not proud of what they were doing. And it seemed to me that if the Nazis were anything, it was proud. It seems unlikely to me that the 9 year old son of a commandante would be so ignorant of the Nazi ideals. Maybe I’m wrong, but the book seems apologetically Nazi and in my mind, that is an oxymoron. The Nazis did not apologize. They thought they were right.

I would recommend “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” to anybody. It was sad, as you’d expect a book about Auschwitz to be, but the sadness was tempered a bit by the imagination and thoughts of a little boy trying to figure life out.

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The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth

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The Wild Girl” is a dark and beautiful book that reminds me of King Solomon’s words:Image

“What has been will be again,

what has been done will be done again;

there is nothing new under the sun.”

Dortchen Wild grew up next door to Jakob and Wilhelm Grimm and is one of their main sources for the fables and tales that were rewritten and published to make sure the world didn’t forget the old stories that had been told from generation to generation before them.

The story begins as any good fairy tale does, with young love and adventure and excitement. But, soon, the dark realities of life in the early 1800s in the German kingdom of Hessen-Cassel set in. With war in the background and hunger and poverty in the foreground, we read the story of Dortchen who has to battle evil even in her own home.

Near the beginning of the book, Dortchen and Wilhelm are talking about the power that words have. “He said that words have a remarkable power. The word “God” is only three letters, yet how much meaning is in those three letters? It’s vast, unimaginable. Think of the word “liberty”. Only seven letters, yet it changed a whole country and looks like it might change the world.” This sort of thinking sets up the whole premise of the book. How often do we speak or read words and stories without really examining the meaning behind them. We accept them at face value without delving into the depths that are contained inside. Kate Forsyth does that sort of digging for us, though, and this book is a possible insight into the lives of Wilhelm and Dortchen. She never says that this is their story. But, she lets you know that it could have been. Just as it is the story of so many before and after them.

The book left me with a heavy heart, but it’s the kind of heaviness that reminds me that people are broken and hurting and we need to hear their cries for help, no matter how they are disguised. I didn’t want to put it down. I read it every chance I got hoping for redemption and a happily ever after. I won’t tell you if those come or not. You’ll have to read it for yourself, and you will be glad you did. Enjoy your foray into the tales of your childhood. See how they have changed through the years, and the circumstances that created them, and what may have changed them.