The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

Title:  The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Author:  John Boyne

Paperback:  215 pages

ISBN:  9780552773805

Book Challenges:  War Through the Generations World War II Reading Challenge

‘I’m Shmuel,’ said the little boy.

Bruno scrunched up his face, not sure that he had heard the little boy right.  ‘What did you say your name was?’ he asked.

‘Shmuel,’ said the little boy as if it was the most natural thing in the world.  ‘What did you say your name was?’

‘Bruno,’ said Bruno.

‘I’ve never heard of that name,’ said Shmuel.

‘And I’ve never heard of your name,’ said Bruno.  ‘Shmuel.’  He thought about it.  ‘Shmuel,’ he repeated.  ‘I like the way it sounds when I say it.  Shmuel.  It sounds like the wind blowing.’

‘Bruno,’ said Shmuel, nodding his head happily.  ‘Yes, I think I like your name too.  It sounds like someone who’s rubbing their arms to keep warm…  I’m nine,’ he said.  ‘My birthday is April the fifteenth nineteen thirty-four.’

Bruno’s eyes opened wide and his mouth made the shape of an O.  ‘I don’t believe it,’ he said… ‘my birthday is april the fifteenth too.  And I was born in nineteen thirty-four.  We were born on the same day… We’re like twins,’ said Bruno.

-The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, pages 109-110

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne is a story of friendship told through the eyes of Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp Commandant.  Uprooted from friends and the only home he’s ever known, Bruno hates his new home in “Out-With,” his mispronunciation of Auschwitz, and makes sure everyone knows it.  But one day, when he goes out exploring the area around his house, he meets a boy his own age on the other side of the fence where everyone wears striped pyjamas all day.  The two quickly become friends, and meet as often as possible at the same time and spot everyday from then on.

One of the things I like about this book is Boyne’s layered subtleties.  Bruno, the naive and sheltered innocent, passes along clues of his mother’s infidelity, drinking and depression, as well as the competition that goes on between Gretel, his twelve-turning-thirteen year-old sister, and his mother for the attention of the young Lieutenant Koltor.  Bruno witnesses but can’t quite grasp the difference between him and his family and the people on the other side of the fence, asking different people about it with varying degrees of failure to get a satisfactory answer.  His father tells him the others aren’t people -not really, not in the way we think of.  The Lieutenant calls them a derogatory name that is never passed along in the book.  Gretel comes the closest to answering him, failing only because she herself doesn’t understand it, either, telling him that the people on the other side were Jews and they were The Opposite, and The Opposite hate the Jews.

There are a few things that just got under my skin with this book, however.  For instance, if these people are German, then I assume they speak German in their thoughts as well as conversations with one another.  I found it mildly irritating that Bruno would think “Auschwitz” would sound like “Aus mit” (the direct translation “Out-with”).  Or that he would hear “Der Führer” and think people were calling Hitler “Das Wut”.  Also, there are a lot of repetition in the book.  Okay, I get it… Father’s office is “Out of bounds at all times with no exceptions.”  I got that the first time.  And I caught it on page 1 that Bruno had some stuff that belonged to him and were nobody else’s business.  Another thing I really wish Boyne had added to the book was how Bruno and Shmuel would have spent their birthday.  No doubt Bruno would have had a party with cake and a big dinner, but how would he have shared the special day with his “twin”?

Boyne’s storytelling in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is reminiscent of Scout’s recounting in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, though not as well-done nor is Bruno as developed as a character as Scout was.  In Boyne’s attempt to reach as broad an audience as possible, the story is a bit like thin gruel.  Everyone can digest it, but it hasn’t got very much flavor.  If you are looking for a good book that glimpses the lives of the people during Nazi Germany, I’d recommend The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  The writing is magical, the storytelling point-of-view is unique, and the depth of even the tertiary characters are better than Bruno’s.

Still, I’m passing this book on to my kids.  I think it’s a good book to introduce young and reluctant readers to the subjects:  The Holocaust, racism, hate, friendship, loyalty, love.  I think 4th and 5th graders, particularly boys of that age, would enjoy this book the most.  For me, a mom with a children the same ages as Bruno and Gretel (not to mention the same relationship as the bickering siblings, as well), I found Bruno to be an exasperatingly annoying little whiner at times. 

I give The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne 3 out of 5 stars.  It’s an acceptable read, but for me, as forgettable as Bruno found his three best friends for life.   In a year, I doubt I’ll even remember their names.

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In 2008, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas was made into a movie.  I’ll have to put it on the top of my Netflix Queue, it looks fairly good.  Maybe they’ll address the birthday issue for me in it.

SBG daily ~ The Ripple Effect of Greatness

SBG coverThis week I’ll be posting about topics inspired by reading Something Beyond Greatness by Judy Rodgers and Gayatri Naraine.  Today, I’d like to focus on how we get inspired to acts of kindness by watching others giving of themselves.

In chapter 9, “The Ripple Effect of Greatness,” the authors discuss how acts of kindness are contagious to those who observe them.  It makes sense, of course, when a child grows up with domestic abuse, that child is more likely to grow up to be an abuser or victim. 

 

Witnessing a good deed creates emotions of warmth, positivity, optimism, compassion and a desire to act.  In the book, these feelings are called “elevation.”

However, one doesn’t have to see the act first hand to get the effects.  You can read an inspirational book or news item, or watch a movie of people going above and beyond to help.  Even a TV commercial can inspire us to act.

Some of the most inspirational books and movies I’ve read that got me off my butt and helping were:

  • We Are Marshall~ How can you gripe about the little irritations and wanna give up after watching this movie (and Matthew McConaughey is a cutie).
  • The Bible ~ Yes, definitely The Bible, lookit… Esther, Jesus, Paul and so many more who put their life on the line, literally DIED to help others.  Regardless of your religious beliefs, how can you NOT be inspired by them?
  • The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer ~ Bonhoeffer’s life in general, and this book especially, forces me to step up and get real, not to just whine about it.  I think he’s one of the under-appreciated heroes of WWII.

What movies or books have you seen or read that inspired you?

Don’t forget to enter to win a copy of Something Beyond Greatness, and comment here for an extra entry ;-)

TSS ~ Birthdays are Challenging for a Jane Austen Spaz!

The Sunday Salon.com

K, so I started doing a Jane-a-thon last year, fully intent on reading all Jane Austen’s books, straight through, in order of publication.  I made it through Sense & Sensibility, Pride & Prejudice, and Mansfield Park with no trouble…. then came Emma, and I hit a wall.  She was so dense and droning and hard to read… even harder to like any of the characters except Mr. Knightly and Miss Taylor… and I lost steam.  I did finally finish Emma a couple weeks ago, but I’m thinking I need a shot of something to get back on track with it all.

So….

I’ve joined 65 other people in joining Stephanie’s Written Word‘s Everything Austen ChallengeIt’s my first book challenge, other than LibraryThing’s 50 and 75 book challenges, and I’m excited to be doing it :-)

The challenge runs from July 1st, 2009 to January 1st, 2010, and in that six months, I need to do at least six Austen related things, either reading books by her, books about her, books about the characters she wrote or watching movies of the same ilk.  Six Austen-related things will be easy for me…  the hard part will be not doing them all in July out of excitement. :-D

 So my six Austen-themed things are:

  1. Read Northanger Abbey, it’s up next on the Jane-a-thon anyway.
  2. Read Persuasion, which will complete my Jane-a-thon.
  3. Read Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon, which are all by Jane Austen.
  4. Read The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, which has been on my TBR list for awhile, but I’ve been waiting to finish the novels first.
  5. Read Austenland by Shannon Hale, also a long waiter on Mt. TBR.
  6. Read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which I spazzed out about when I saw it on the shelf at Walmart.

Bonus points will be:

  1. Watching Northanger Abbey
  2. Watching Persuasion
  3. Watching The Jane Austen Book Club
  4. and any other Austen-themed thing I come across :-D

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And since I’m being such a joiner, I think I’ll go ahead and join the War Through the Generations World War II Reading Challenge.  Since it’s running from January 1st, 2009 to December 31st, 2009, I can count books I’ve read since the challenge began.  Pretty easy, really… only 5 books and I’ve read two already.

My list for the WWII Reading Challenge:

  1. The Zookeeper’s Wifeby Diane Ackerman
  2. The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies
  3. The True Story of Hansel & Gretel by Louise Murphy
  4. Stones From the Riverby Ursula Hegi
  5. The Secret Holocaust Diaries:  The Untold Story of Nonna Bannister by Nonna Bannister, Denise George, Carolyn Tomlin
  6. Sarah’s Keyby Tatiana de Rosnay
  7. The Readerby Bernhard Schlink
  8. The Pianist:  The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945by Wladyslaw Szpilman
  9. Number the Starsby Lois Lowry
  10. Night by Elie Wiesel
  11. Guernica by Dave Boling
  12. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
  13. The Boy in the Striped Pajamasby John Boyne

These are the WWII-related books on the WWII Reading Challenge list that I have on Mt. TBR.  I’ve already read The Book Thiefby Markus Zusak and Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, so I only have 3 to go for the 5 book challenge, and I’ll probably do more. 

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2009 ARC Reading Challenge

2009 ARC Reading Challenge

As they say, “In for a penny, in for a pound,” so I’m going to add one more challenge to my book-challenge-lovefestI’ve got going.  So Many Books, So Little Time is hosting an ARC Reading Challenge.  I know I need to get it in gear with my ARC-alanche pile threatening to cave in… and poor Missy’s bed is just below the stacks, she’ll be crushed!

So, to save my dog and get motivated to get on the stick with these, I’m joining the 2009 ARC Reading Challenge.  For this challenge I am suppose to list all my ARCs and review books (done that on the ARC-alanche pageof Mt. TBR’s inventory), and read 12 of them.  Coolness :-)

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And other tidbits of info….

  • Tomorrow, June 29th, is my birthday, so yay me!  LOL… 
  • In the Shadow of Mt. TBR is a little over a year old, June 16, 2008 was my first post. 
  • Monday is my stop for the Something Beyond Greatness blog tour, and I’ve got an extra copy to give away, so make sure to sign up for a chance to win.  I’ll have a daily post for you to comment on for an extra entry, too.

Have a great Sunday, everyone! :-)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

Title:  Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Author:  Jamie Ford

Hardbound:  290 pages

Date Published:  January 27, 2009

Publisher:  Ballantine Books (div of Random House)

ISBN:  9780345505330

At the next mess hall, lunch had finished.  Mrs. Beatty had him wash and wipe down trays while she coordinated with the kitchen manager on needed supplies and menu planning.  “Just hang out if you get done early,” she said.  “Don’t go wandering off unless you want to stay here for the rest of the war,”  Henry suspected that she wasn’t joking and nodded politely, finishing his work.

By all accounts, the mess hall was off-limits to the Japanese when it wasn’t mealtime.  Most were restricted to their chicken shacks, although he did see people occasionally slogging through the mud to and from the latrine.

When he was done, Henry sat on the back step and watched smoke billowing from the stovepipes fitted into the roofs of the makeshift homes – the collective smoky mist filled the wet, gray sky above the camp.  The smell of burning wood lingered in the air.

She’s here.  Somewhere.  Among how many people?  A thousand?  Five thousand?  Henry didn’t know.  He wanted to shout her name, or run door to door, but the guards in the towers didn’t look like they took their jobs lightly.  They stood watch for the protection of the internees – so he’d been told.  But if that were so, why were their guns pointed inside the camp?

It didn’t matter.  Henry felt better knowing he’d made it this far.  There were still a chance he’d find her.  Among the sad, shocked faces, maybe he’d find her smile again.  But it was getting dark.  Maybe it was too late.

-Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, page 157

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford is a heart-touching tale of Henry Lee; the son of a prominent, traditional Chinese community leader who’s left his heart in the homeland; called “white devil” by his peers as he goes off to an all-white school on “scholarship” (translation – he does all the janitor work for the privilege of attending the school) where he’s bullied, heckled and harrassed on a constant basis as the only Asian student, that is, until Keiko, a Japanese-American girl, begins to “scholarship” with him; he is also father of Marty, with whom he struggles to communicate or even have much of a relationship after the death of Henry’s wife, Ethel, Marty’s mother.  As the story moves back and forth in time between 1986 to 1942, the reader is able to watch the unfolding of the young, innocent love Henry discovers he has for Keiko, a love that is forbidden, and could even get him disowned, by his traditionalist father, who sees Keiko as just a relative of those people invading and destroying his home.

Their love is undeterred by the war, even when all people of Japanese decent are rounded up and sent away to live in relocation centers (concentration camps) for the remainder of the war.  Henry promises he’ll wait for her, even until she’s an old woman… he promises to bring her  a cane if it takes that long.  However, being children, things are not always so easy or so lasting as young Henry finds out.

The discover of personal belongings left behind by residents of Nihonmachi (Japantown) in the basement of the Panama Hotel offers Henry the opportunity to open up and share with his son, and to heal the rift that had started between Henry and his own father, who made him the man and father he became, despite his desire to be different.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a quiet book, but deeply moving.  It explores racial issues of the 1940s, both those between Caucasians and Asians and blacks, but also between Chinese-Americans and Japanese-Americans, and between Issei (first generation Japanese immigrants) and Nissei (second generation Japanese-Americans).  The book addresses how traditional culture has had to give way to contemporary culture.  It also touches on the culture of jazz, and offers music as a unifying agent… something that all cultures can share and appreciate.

One of the things that I enjoyed about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is that it inspires the reader to exploring history further, beyond the covers of the book.  It offers a vignette of American history and life, but it doesn’t preach or teach.  Ford could have very easily turned Hotel into a soap box and spoken out  against the unconstitutional suspension of the civil rights of American citizens by removing them from their homes, robbing them of their property and detaining them without just cause simply because of their genetic heritage.  This would have been a valid argument to have made, but Ford leaves the moral interpretation to the reader.  He could have turned it into a history lesson, but, instead, provides enough information for the reader to do his or her own homework.  Which I did.

And, I apparently found the same documentaries as Ford.  I recommend the following for better understanding of this book:

  • Time of Fear- a PBS documentary about the experiences of both the Japanese-Americans sent to relocation camps in Arkansas and their Caucasian and Black Arkansan neighbors.
  • Unfinished Business – The Japanese-American Internment Cases – while the civil rights movement didn’t really get going until the 60s, not every Japanese-American went along with the government’s unlawful treatment of it’s own citizens.  This documentary shows some of those attempts of civil disobedience.
  • Nanking- Performed by stars such as Woody Harrelson, Mariel Hemmingway, Jürgen Prochnow, Stephen Dorff, and Rosalind Chao, among others, this documentary dramatically tells the story of the Japanese Army’s invasion and occupation of Nanking, China.

All three of the videos will help you get a better understanding of the background of the book, but especially Nanking.  It will make all the difference in understanding where Henry’s dad is coming from and help you not to see him as a mean, bigoted, old man.

Well researched, but never feeling “studied,” Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford will allow you to step into the life and culture of another, and to see the world from a different angle, while still provide you with the entrancing escape for which most of us disappear between the covers of a book.  I give Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet 4 egg rolls and a fortune cookie(which, I guess, is 4 1/2 stars out of 5… lol)

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The following video is Jamie Ford talking about Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet and what sparked his desire to tell the story.

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Don’t forget, I’m giving away my copy of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet! Leaving a comment here on the review post is your official entry, but check out The Giveaway Announcement for details on how to get bonus entries and when the contest ends!

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet Giveaway

I’m currently about halfway through Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford, and it’s both sad and grieving, but also full of hope, acceptance and personal growth.  I will be posting the review of this book on May 11th, as part of the Pump Up Your Book Promotion Virtual Book Tour.

The author’s name, Jamie Ford, is deceptive.  “Ford is the great-grandson of Nevada mining pioneer Min Chung, who emigrated in 1865 from Kaiping, China, to San Francisco, where he adopted the Western name “Ford,” thus confusing countless generations” :-)  He is also of Southern gentility, giving him a multicultural worldview.  AND… he’s quite a cutie, I might add ;-)

More about Jamie (Ja Mei to his Yin-Yin):

Career-wise, Jamie went to art school in Seattle to become an illustrator, and ended up an art director/copywriter. He’s won an embarrassingly large amount of meaningless awards including 400+ Addys, 7 Best-of-Shows, and his work has appeared in Adweek, Advertising Age, Graphis and Communication Arts. He also had a commercial appear on an episode of The U.K.’s Funniest Commercials inspired by an embarrassing incident with a bidet that he’d rather not go into right now.

On the writerly side, he won the 2006 Clarity of Night Short Fiction Contest, was First Runner-Up in the 2006 Midnight Road Reader’s Choice Awards and was a Top-25 finalist in Glimmer Train’s Fall 2006 Short Story Award For New Writers. He’s been published in The PicolataReview, and his fiction is online at Flashing in the Gutters and Fictional Musings. He’s also an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Community of Writers and a survivor of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Bootcamp.

On the personal side, he’s the proud father of two boys and two girls. Yep, it’s chaos, . but the good kind of chaos.
For more information about the author or his work, please visit http://www.jamieford.com/
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Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet is a heartwarming story about fathers and sons, first loves, fate, and the resilient human heart. Set in the ethnic neighborhoods of Seattle during World War II and Japanese American internment camps of the era, the times and places are brought to life.  In the following video, Jamie Ford gives you the “behind-the-scenes” story of his debut novel.
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I’m really loving this book, and I want to share it and pass it on to someone who is going to enjoy it, too. Instead of posting it on BookMooch or PaperBackSwap,  I’m going to give away my copy here on my blog :-) 
So here’s the way this giveaway is going to work:
For your official entry you’ll need to leave a comment on my book review  to let me know you would like to be entered for a chance to win.
BUT….
You can also earn extra entries by:
  1. Post this giveaway on your blog and leave me a comment here with the link for 5 bonus entries.
  2. If you don’t have a blog, email at least 5 people about the giveaway with the link to this post, and include my email address, ibetnoonehasthisdamnid@yahoo.com in the BCC (blind copy) bar for 3 bonus entries.
  3. Follow me on Twitter, and tweet about this giveaway for 2 bonus entries. (be sure to include @thekoolaidmom in your tweet, that way I’ll catch your tweet and give you credit)
  4. Leave a comment here for 1 bonus entry, and 10 bonus entries for answering this question,

 “What tangible thing (a toy, record, woobie, etc) from your childhood you wish you had back the most?  What does this item mean to you?”

If you do all the above, you’ll earn 21 bonus entries!  Don’t forget, though, you have to leave a comment on the review, otherwise… ya get nada!

And now, for the boring details:

  1. Contest is open to anyone, anywhere, so long as you have a place to receive mail.  I can’t ship the book to “The VAN down by the river,” you need an actual, deliverable address… Which means, this is open to international readers, as well :-D
  2. Contest ends at 11:59 pm, Saturday May 16th, 2009.
  3. All entries will be listed randomly and numbered, then the winning number will be chosen using Research Randomizer.  If you’d like a copy of the list of entries, email me and I’ll be happy to send it :-)
  4. The Winner will be announced in my May 17th Sunday Salon post, and will have 48 hours to email me their address or be disqualified and a replacement winner will be chosen.

Okay, so get busy posting and tweeting and emailing, and whatnot!

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