Although these books are both set during WWII, they are completely different from one another. They are also both completely wonderful. Read them!
Like everyone else, I read Boy in the Striped Pajamas when it first came out. But then I forgot all about John Boyne until recently when I saw a review of A History of Loneliness over at The Paperback Princess and Stay Where You Are and Then Leave at Your Daughter’s Bookshelf – both very positive. So, when I saw this new one, I jumped at the chance to read it.
This book is about a boy named Pierrot. He lived in France with his parents until his father disappeared and his mother died. He was a sweet, curious boy who had a good friend named Anshel. When Pierrot was sent away after his mother dies, they swore to never forget one another and to write letters. He had a short stop at an orphanage before he was sent for by his Aunt Beatrix.
Beatrix is the Housekeeper at the Berghof. She believes she can keep Pierrot safe, and for his own protection, she tells him that his name is now Pieter and he can no longer talk about or write to his Jewish friend in France. Despite these curious changes in his life, Pierrot is relatively happy on the mountain. But, as time goes on, the master of the house takes a shine to the boy, and begins to ‘mould’ him into a ‘good’ German. Day by day he becomes more Pieter and less Pierrot.
It’s terrifying to see how easy it is to influence a child any way you want; the child believes they are in the right and even feel confused when others don’t see things the same way. In the case of Pierrot, it was interesting to see how his early experiences of being bullied or picked on made him yearn to have the kind of control over people that he was seeing around him. Even though at every point, you are yelling at Pierrot to stop, you can also see why he doesn’t necessarily want to stop. Power is intoxicating.
He had never felt so proud in all his life. He thought of Kurt Kotler again, and realized how wonderful it would be to have such authority; to be able to take what you wanted, when you wanted, from whomever you wanted, instead of always having things taken from you.
I mean, this is a kids’ book, so I didn’t expect things to get as intense as they did. (Really intense.) But, Boyne does not hold back. Things get uncomfortable, and you, as the reader, might try to reason with/yell at the characters, to no avail. But keep reading, because the ending is perfect. You won’t be able to stop, even if you try. You will have to know how poor Pierrot is going to turn out.
I wish I could tell you more about what happens, but that would ruin it for you. I urge you to read it yourself, then come back and talk to me about it! I will be passing this along to my daughter next, in the hope that she will do just that. I’ll leave you with Eva’s impression of Boyne’s skill as a storyteller: “What Boyne has done here, create a story about an incredibly dark period in human history that is suitable for children and adults, is no small feat.”
I will definitely be seeking out more of his books from now on.
*Thanks to Random House Canada for sending me a copy of this book for review!
I’ve seen this book around on blogger lists a few times, and although I took it out as part of my big stack of library books, I wasn’t sure I would get to it. But I did. And it is the source of my most recent book hangover. I was sad when it ended (I am still sad), and I was not ready to leave Kolya and Lev behind yet.
So, what is this book about? A 17-year-old boy gets caught looting. The punishment for this is death. A 20-year-old soldier gets caught for desertion. The punishment for this is death. But, neither of them die. Instead, they are partnered up and asked to go on a special errand for the Colonel; to find a dozen eggs by Friday for his daughter’s wedding cake. Doesn’t sound too hard, does it? Except that they are in Leningrad in 1941; there is no food and the people are starving. How are they going to find a dozen eggs in 5 days? How can you not want to immediately run out and get this book?
- This is a WWII novel that will make you laugh – something that does not come along every day.
- The setting of war-starved Leningrad (and surrounding area) was new for me.
- The many literary references and discussions that take place while Lev (the son of a poet) and Kolya (a university literature student) are on their search for eggs.
- Lev. Hard on the outside, squishy on the inside. Conscious of his large nose and small frame, especially when Kolya recounts for him his many female encounters. Wants to prove himself brave and worthy.
… contrary to popular belief, the experience of terror does not make you braver. Perhaps, though, it is easier to hide your fear when you’re afraid all the time.
So many great Russians endured long stretches in prison. That night I learned I would never be a great Russian.
The loneliest sound in the world is other people making love.
- Kolya. Apparently fearless. Bordering on arrogant, but so charming that he gets away with it. Obsessed with women, and the number of days since he last had a bowel movement. Hilarious. Ultimately, generous and kind.
“It’s been nine days for me. I’ve been counting. Nine days! When it finally happens, I’ll have a big party and invite the best-looking girls from the university.”… “Invite the Colonel’s daughter.”… “I will, absolutely. My sh*t party will be much better than this wedding she’s planning.”
In spite of all his irritating qualities, I couldn’t help liking a man who despised a fictional character with such passion.
- Their friendship; it’s beautiful to watch it grow from nothing to everything.
- Their adventures. And what adventures they had in the space of 5 days (as I guess one would in the middle of a war). Cannibals luring them into their house, trudging through the woods in knee-deep snow warding off starvation and hypothermia, running into a grumpy group of partisans, just barely escaping German soldiers only to end up joining their group of war prisoners, a high-stakes game of chess with a high-ranking German Officer. To name a few.
- All of this, only to come so close. Gah. I don’t even want to talk about it. Except to say that the ending was just right, even though I’d like to change it. (Will I ever get over it?)
- Great last line! I wish I had thought of that when I first met my husband.
Happily taking recommendations for similar books (are there any?). Has anyone read any of Benioff‘s other books?