Tuesday, June 9, 2009

don't read this book

As I mentioned a few days ago, I recently read a book that I hated more than any other book I've ever read. In this, I am including my hatred for A Wrinkle in Time, which I had to read in fifth grade, and despised it, for some reason that now escapes me. I don't remember why I disliked this book so much, but I think this began my lack of appreciation for sci-fi. I know, Madeleine L'Engle won several literary awards for this book, including a Newbery, but it just didn't do it for me.

Anyway. Back to the boy...

This book was bad. Just really, really bad, so far-fetched and unbelievable in so many ways, if you know a single thing about the Holocaust, and in today's world, I'm sure you do. Here is the synopsis from Barnes and Noble---

Berlin 1942

When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move from their home to a new house far far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence running alongside stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people he can see in the distance.

But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different to his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.

Bruno, I think, was the dumbest kid on the planet. Seriously. When the fuhrer, aka Adolf Hitler, comes to your house for dinner, you don't ask who he is or why he's there. Anyone in Nazi Germany knew who Hitler was, even at nine years old. Secondly, when your sister tells you that the Jews are on the other side of the fence, you don't ask who the Jews are and why you dislike them. Bruno was nine years old, but kids knew, they made fun of Jewish children too. Come on Bruno, get with the program. There is no way that a nine year old in Nazi Germany wouldn't know what a Jew is, or that he's living next door to a concentration camp. He wondered why everyone on the otherside of the fence was wearing the same "striped pajamas," but didn't seem to realize that they were being killed. As the son of a high-ranking Nazi official, Bruno would certainly have been a member of the Hitler Youth and a product of the Nazi education system. He would know these very basic things that he was so naive to. He also seemed to be constantly whining. For example, their house in Berlin apparently had five floors, but when they moved to the house at Auschwitz, there were only three floors, and he was so fixated on that, it was brought up nearly every chapter. I wanted to reach into my book and smack him, I really, really did.
One day Bruno takes a walk along the fence, even though he's told not to. Near the end, he finds a small boy about his age sitting on the ground, on the other side of the fence. First of all, this infuriated me for numerous reasons. First of all, THERE WERE NO NINE YEAR OLD BOYS AT AUSCHWITZ!!! Upon arrival, all children under 12 or 14 were sent immediately to the gas chambers. Perhaps one or two might be spared, to act as messengers, but rarely. Secondly, all along the fence, there were watchtowers, with guards with big, big guns. They'd never, ever, ever allow the son of the commander of the camp to wander along the fence. Then, they'd never allow a small boy to just sit there like he had nothing better to do, because he always had something better to do- they worked them to death! Come on now. There's just no way.
So the two young boys strike up an unlikely friendship. Bruno comes back to see him most days and brings food, as his new friend tells him how hungry he is. Of course, Bruno often complains about the roast beef, saying they just had it three nights before, or that the chocolate cake isn't chocolaty enough for his liking. Oh and he never notices that his friend is scarfing down this food, but only gets skinnier and skinnier, while Bruno doesn't. Another thing that bothered me was Bruno's lack of knowledge of any sort of geography. In a conversation, his friend tells him that he is from Poland. Bruno has no idea what he is talking about, he's never heard of a place called Poland and then seems flabbergasted when his friend says that Auschwitz (called Out-With throughout the book, another annoyance of mine) is, in fact, located in Poland. Now yes, he's nine years old, but as a nine year old, I had heard of Poland and last time I checked, the U.S. doesn't share a border with it. Most nine year olds can at least name a few countries that neighbor their own.
I won't give away the ending, in case you want to read it for yourself, but if you'd like me to spoil it for you, feel free to email me and I will likely rant even more :)
I guess it just angered me that this book has received so much attention, to the point that it was turned into a movie. Yes, at the same time, it has received a good deal of the criticism that it deserves. I feel that the author did a poor job of portraying the way things were and the likelihood of these occurrences. I've been to Auschwitz about a dozen times, I've seen the camp, I know how it looks. I am in no way an expert on the topic, but I've done a good bit of research and read a great deal about the Holocaust in general and I'd like to think I am fairly knowledgeable on the subject. This is a subject that has been written about extensively and I feel that any sort of Holocaust-related fiction needs to be so incredibly well-written and researched to the fullest. This is such a sensitive topic on so many levels that it cannot and should not be taken lightly and I feel as though this book does just that. It is almost offensive how the Holocaust is portrayed by the author, in my opinion, because it is just so misleading.


Anonymous said...

that's an opinion if i've ever heard one

maybe the author was going for entertainment value and not realism? i dunno, i don't read many books that aren't written by Jennifer Weiner so i'm definitely not a good person to judge other books : )
but i see your point, i can't deal with sci-fi for the same reasons, too far fetched and freakin absurd

The Northerner said...

I've heard of this book, but haven't read it. Now I want to read it just so I can understand the controversy...if that makes sense :)

Janssen said...

Ugh, this book is just so so ridiculous. I kind of love giving people a summary of it just to see how shocked they looked by how obviously poorly done it is. Does that make me a bad person?