Sunday, September 17, 2006

Is Ignorance Bliss?

For those who have ever pondered "Can what I don't know hurt me???" consider reading John Boyne's new book The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

Boyne, John. 2006. The Boy in The Striped Pajamas.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is either the best-worst book I’ve ever read OR the worst-best book I’ve ever read. There are many words I could use to describe this novel or “fable” by John Boyne. Powerful. Gripping. Emotional. Haunting. Tragic. Beautiful. Manipulative. Disturbing. Thought-Provoking. Challenging. Whether you hate it or love it, one thing can’t be is a novel that stays with you long after you’ve finished reading it. And how many ‘novels’ can you honestly say have that same effect?

What is it about? I’m not going to tell you. Not much anyway. Part of the intrigue of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is its ambiguous description, at least this was the case for me. I picked the book up and scanned the back cover looking for a description only to find: “The story of The Boy In The Striped Pajamas is very difficult to describe. Usually we give some clues about the book on the jacket, but in this case we think that would spoil the reading of the book. We think it is important that you start to read without knowing what it is about. If you do start to read this book, you will go on a journey with a nine-year-old boy called Bruno. (Though this isn’t a book for nine-year-olds.) And sooner or later you will arrive with Bruno at a fence. Fences like this exist all over the world. We hope you never have to encounter such a fence.”

For those with good deductive reasoning skills, the subject matter may be relatively easy to guess. Without even ‘cheating’ by reading any of the text, I was able to guess that perhaps--just perhaps--this Bruno was about to encounter one of the most horrific crimes against humanity in the twentieth century.

I have described the book itself. But I would like a chance to describe the book’s young hero. Bruno is the poster-child for innocence. He represents everything that is right with the world. Young. Naive. Innocent. Trusting. Care-free. Vulnerable. Honest. Gullible. In some ways The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a book about the very best in humanity colliding with the very worst in humanity...a novelization of humanity’s struggle with itself.

While The Boy In the Striped Pajamas is not for everyone--it requires a certain emotional maturity and stability--it is a beautiful book. Beautiful and awful at the same time. . . if such a thing is possible. It is a book that I know will haunt me for many years to come, yet I can’t decide if that is a good thing or a bad thing.

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