I recently re-joined my old library after almost 9 years. It was one of the best decisions I could have made (which I’ll discuss in another post). While browsing the shelves on my lunch break I came across an author I had never read before, John Boyne. Apparently, he is fairly high profile but I had never heard of him before! I picked up his book ‘The Thief of Time’ and was pleasantly surprised. I finished it in two sittings, which is no mean feat when you have a five year-old, run a full-time business and get to read only after 11pm at night. I was hooked.
When I went in to return the Thief of Time, I was looking for a slim volume to fit into my handbag. I had a longish ride to meet a business contact the next day and wanted to read on the commute, without having to lug around a brick in my handbag. I went back to take a quick look at the other titles by John Boyne and ‘lo and behold!’ there was a slim volume in the bunch. I immediately grabbed it, barely scanned the title, and rushed to check it out.
The next morning I got settled for the long drive (I wasn’t driving) and pulled out the book. When we pulled up in front of my contact’s office an hour or so later, I had to literally pull myself out of a trance. The book was so easy to read (and even relate to a bit), while making you think hard that it had my undivided attention. I finished it on the commute home over the next few days and though that was a few months back, the book has stayed with me since.
The story is viewed through the eyes of a nine year old boy, Bruno, who’s like any other nine year old child I have met. Completely involved in his own world of friendships, adventures (real and make believe) and fights with his older sister ‘The Hopeless Case’. The story starts with the family’s move to support the father’s promotion. Though this is a rise up through the ranks of ‘The Fury’s’ (Hitler) administration for his father, it feels like a punishment to Bruno, his mother and sister. They are moved from the center of Berlin, to a god-forsaken house, where their only company are the soldiers reporting to Bruno’s father. Separated from his friends and grandparents, Bruno decides to entertain himself with his favourite pastime exploring.
Unlike his old house, which had five floors and dozens of undiscovered nooks and crannies, the current house offers no such delights. There isn’t even a marketplace or crowded street where he can be pushed ‘from pillar to post’. So the young explorer decides to find out the significance and extent of the barbed wire fence he can see from his bedroom window. His burning questions are “Why does everyone on the other side of the fence get to live in loose, striped pyjamas all day, while he has to wear shoes that pinch his feet? Why can’t he play with any of the children that he can see from his window?”
His adventures lead him to Shmuel, one of the striped pyjama people. A friendship blossoms between the two, based solely on the sharing of food and conversation (a usually strange notion for nine-year old boys). Apart from a shared birthday, the two boys have nothing in common but come to depend on each other’s company to get through their individual days.
The story ends with a simple but highly poignant twist that makes sure you will never forget this book.
Why choose to review this book on a blog about making life happy? Well, the book actually made me appreciate the smaller pleasures in life, gave me an idea of what could be going through my little one’s head and did not for a moment linger on the morbid (unusual for a book set right in the middle of wartime).
Read this and I guarantee real happiness whenever you think of it. Not because of the actual story, but because of the way it is told.
Here’s a transcript of a talk by the author on this particular book.
Stay Happy Everyday
Credits: Image 1
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