How can I possibly express the way I felt after finishing this marvellos, yet terrible in its crudity, book? The subtitle, A story of innocence in a world of ignorance, couldn’t fit better.
Bruno is 9 when he and his family have to leave the beautiful terraced in Berlin and relocate to a smaller house in a place in the middle of nowhere called Out-With. Bruno’s father is a Commandant. The Fury himself asked him to relocate in Out-With as the Fury “has big projects in his mind for him”.
There are no shops in Out-With, no cafés, no schools, no neighbours. Above all, there are no friends for Bruno and his elder sister. The only children in Out-With live in some kind of big camp Bruno sees from his bedroom window.
Bruno dreams of becoming an explorer one day, so he decides to go out and start discovering the new place he’s living in. He eventually runs into a pale, bruised child sitting cross-legs on the ground on the other side of the fence. The boy, whose name is Shmuel, is Bruno’s age and was born on the same day as him. Shmuel is a Jew, a fact that Bruno accepts with a shrug, incapable of grasping the meaning of it.
It’s the beginning of a special friendship. For over a year the two kids will spend most of afternoons together, sitting on the two sides of the fence and talking until it’s time for Bruno to go home.
One day Bruno’s mother decides it’s time for her and her children to move back to Berlin. Bruno and Shmuel will have to say goodbye.
The reader sees the events through Bruno’s innocent eyes, a kid who doesn’t understand what’s happening a few steps away from his house, but the reader knows what Bruno is seeing is no neighborhood and that Out-With is actually Auschwitz and the Fury Bruno mentions is the Führer.
This is why this story is so moving and unbelievably sad. Each time we understand what Bruno has really seen happening in that camp, we feel shocked, sad. We feel ashamed. The friendship between Bruno, a son of Germany, and Shmuel, a Jew, brutally teaches us how children’s purity can see beyond adults’ prejudice and racism, hate and ignorance. Those two kids come from different worlds, but in the despair of their time they find they can be true friends. They were born and will die on the same day. Side by side, hand in hand.
A superbly brilliant plot that won’t miss to move and give us a lesson. When we thought the Holocaust was by now a quite exhausted topic, when we believed there’s nothing else or new we could know from a book, here comes John Boyne, who shows us how we could be wrong.