Nine-year-old Bruno returns home one day to find his belongings being packed up, by one of his family servants. Bruno questions his mother, who reveals that the family will be moving from Berlin, as his father has received a promotion. Leaving his three best friends for life, grandparents and five-storey home behind, Bruno’s family move to their new house in Out-with.
When exploring his new forbidding house Bruno spots a tall fence, out of his bedroom window, with barbed wire wrapped around the top, running much further than he could see. As an inquisitive explorer, Bruno is eager to find out more about what is on the other side. Intrigued by the peculiar people behind the fence, who all wear the same striped pyjamas.
His father, a strict military commandant, dismisses Bruno’s questions about the fence and asserts that the fence is Out Of Bounds At All Times And No Exceptions, even though he spends a great deal of time with the other soldiers (who are often inside the house) on the other side of the fence. In particular, Bruno has a rooted dislike for one menacing soldier, who names Bruno ‘little man’, and is especially unkind to Pavel, the family’s cook. Much to Bruno’s puzzlement, the soldiers surround his father laughing at his jokes and hanging on to every word he says.
The novel is centred around Bruno’s innocence and naivety. It is only when Bruno comes across Shmuel, The Dot That Became a Speck That Became a Blob That Became a Figure That Became a Boy, sitting cross-legged on the other side of the fence in his striped pyjamas, that he could ultimately spend his afternoons discussing what life was like on the adjoining side of the fence.
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas offers a distinctive perspective on Nazi Germany. The horrors of the holocaust are misinterpreted and conveyed through the voice of a sheltered child, who is unwittingly subsumed at the heart of the Nazis’ ultimate solution. It is a short and extraordinary story that brings history to light.