The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne


At nine years old, Bruno’s world is turned upside down when his father gets promoted. He has to leave his home, his friends, and his grandparents and move to some place called Out-With. There is no one but soldiers for miles around, except for the people on the other side of the long, high fence. They all wear the same striped pajamas.

One day, Bruno decides to go exploring along the fence and he meets Shmuel, sitting in the dirt on the other side. Shmuel is Bruno’s age, and he wears the striped pajamas like everyone else on that side of the fence.

This is a wonderful story, and I’d like to get the negative out of the way first.

I’ve read several negative reviews of this book. They all focused on the historical inaccuracies and how “ridiculous” it is that the reader be expected to believe these two young boys could repeatedly meet at a concentration camp fence with no one ever knowing. These things may be valid arguments, but there is something these reviewers are overlooking: this is a fable. The title page clearly states that.

The author’s intent is not to give a history lesson, but a moral one. The story is about childhood innocence in contrast to adult prejudices. The Holocaust is what Boyne used as his setting. In fact, the author is careful not to mention the actual name of the concentration camp, though people who know the history will easily guess the one implied.

In this moral lesson, Boyne succeeds. And despite the inaccuracies, or stretches of the imagination the story requires, I believe this could be an excellent way to introduce young people to the idea of the Holocaust (suggested reading age is 12+, but I think a mature 10 year old could do well with it). The reading would have to be guided, and fact separated from fiction, but there are lessons to be learned here, and if a child can connect emotionally with this story, it will make that child all the more eager to learn the truth.

1) Overall Plot = 4.5
2) Characters = 4.5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average of score 4.8 out of 5

Where to buy the book: Amazon | B&N

The Butterfly and the Violin by Kristy Cambron

Cabron-ButterflyViolinDesperate for a distraction after being jilted at the alter, gallery owner Sera James becomes obsessed with finding a painting she once saw as a child. She is determined to track down the original painting.

Her search brings her to William Hanover, a wealthy man whose grandfather’s estate could hold the answers she seeks. Together, they try to unravel the mystery of the woman in the painting, Austrian violinist Adele Von Bron.

Adele, the daughter of a high-ranking member of the Third Reich, risks everything to help save a Jewish family. Her world changes in an instant when she finds herself behind the barbed wire of Auschwitz.

This is one of the best novels I’ve read this year. It captured my attention from the start, and never let go. Cambron makes you feel as if you are there with Adele as the story comes together. The story goes back and forth between Sera in our present time, and Adele during World War II, yet you don’t feel lost. The stories are woven together so well that you don’t feel jolted out of one and pulled back into another.

Ultimately, this is a Christian novel. The continuing themes are love and hope, and faith above all. This is definitely a favorite, and I can see myself reading it again.

1) Overall Plot = 5
2) Characters = 5
3) Flow/Pace of the story = 5
4) Is the story easy to follow? = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average of score 5 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

Black Earth by Timothy Snyder

Snyder-BlackEarth     For America, and likely much of Western Europe, most of what we know about World War II and the Holocaust comes from the Western perspective, and the battles fought on Germany’s western front. In Black Earth, Timothy Snyder tells of the events in Eastern Europe that led to the destruction of smaller state governments, which opened the path for the Holocaust.

He begins with an explanation of Hitler’s beliefs. Science, nature, and politics were not separate entities. They were one. Therefore, true politics was the advancement of a master race (Germans) by the natural starvation of inferior races. Jews, according to Hitler, were a non-race, and their moral belief system (such as the Ten Commandments) went against the natural order. Jews, he thought, were then the cause of all that was wrong with the world and must be destroyed.

Snyder goes on to give amazing detail and accounts of events that most have never learned of before. From Hitler’s rise to power, through the errors and corrections to strategy by the Nazis, and through to the last days of the Holocaust, we see an even larger scope to Hitler’s plans.

The book is dense, and sometimes repetitive. The amount of information in each chapter would be daunting except for occasional tiny breaks between paragraphs. I often used these as stopping points, and was thankful for them. Snyder also has a substantial notes and sources section to identify where he got his information, however there are no notations within the text to the corresponding note or source. Instead, there are page numbers to the corresponding text beside each note in the back of the book. It makes it a bit more inconvenient if there’s something you want more information on to look for a note when you’re not sure there’s even one there.

But for what good is in this book, it felt like a bait-and-switch when I reached the last chapter, which nearly ruined any enjoyment I had of the book. This chapter explains how we should learn from Hitler’s tactics to prevent anything like this from happening again, which I definitely agree with. The problem is that Snyder spends almost the entire chapter talking about climate change. He also likens the thinking and beliefs of Evangelical Christians and the American political Right with that of Hitler.

The one thing that stood out for me the most, in regard to error, was his representation of Christians. Do Christians believe that prophecy of the return of Christ revolves around the state of Israel? Yes. But Snyder says that some “are pro-Israel because they want Jews in the Holy Land during the coming apocalypse.” This is a serious misrepresentation and over-simplification of Christian support of Israel as a nation. A support which in no way implies that all Jews should go to Israel.

Snyder goes on to say, “some of [the Jews’] American patrons support policies that could hasten a catastrophe that would endanger the State of Israel, whose destruction they see as a stage in the redemption of the world.” This is also seriously misinformed. Christians who support the State of Israel support its right to independence and its right to defend itself. While Christians do expect end times prophecy to be centered around Israeli conflict, it does not involve Israel’s destruction, and Christians have no desire to see such an end.

Before I got to this last chapter, I noticed a mild error in Biblical discussion within the text. I overlooked it as an error from an author who wasn’t a theology expert, though I wished a bit more thought had been given to it. The representation of Christians (and others) in the last chapter, to me, shows a total disregard for factual representation, and more of an agenda to push his own ideology. This seems totally out of place in what, for the most part, was an historical text. In my opinion, it could easily call into question the accuracy of the entire book. Especially considering, as the book jacket says, “Snyder presents a new explanation… Based on untapped sources… and forgotten testimonies…”

It seems that Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale, would have done better to trim down on some of the historical detail, input just a bit more of his own opinions and assumptions, and present his work as speculative. Otherwise, this book becomes its own form of propaganda.

1) Is it understandable = 4.5
2) Presentation of Information = 3
3) Quality of Writing = 4
4) Overall Enjoyability = 2

I’m removing an additional point from the total average since the last chapter has called accuracy into question.

Average score of 2.3 out of 5

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes.

Night by Elie Wiesel

     The picture to the left is the cover of a 3-in-1 collection of Elie Wiesel’s Night Trilogy. Night, the first of the trilogy, is a memoir. Elie Wiesel, a holocaust survivor, tells of his time at Auschwitz. From his home, to the ghetto, to the camps and the separation of his family… he and his father had only each other to help each other survive.

I will never understand the depths of human cruelty. Wiesel’s account will leave you feeling almost as if you were there. His words are simple and straightforward, but they have such an impact. I have no words to even begin to express my feelings when reading this. Is this a classic? Most definitely. This book captures a moment in time when men showed ultimate evil, and yet others showed ultimate strength – surrounded by death, knowing that the same fate would soon be their own. It is most definitely a classic, though I (and I’m sure Elie Wiesel) wish history had never given it the opportunity to be so. I will always consider this to be one of my top five, must read books.

I have removed accuracy from the rating. As Wiesel’s personal account I have no way to verify, yet absolutely no reason to doubt, that his words are true.

1) Is it understandable? = 5
2) Presentation of Information = 5
3) Accuracy
4) Quality of Writing = 5
5) Overall Enjoyability = 5

Average of  score 5
Overall grade = A

For more on Elie Wiesel and his humanitarian work, please go to his foundation’s website.

Where to buy the book: CBD | Amazon | B&N

This was book 52 in my 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

This was book 12 in my Classics challenge.

Holocaust Remembrance Day 2011

Today is a day of remembrance, so that we never forget the horrible events of the Holocaust. “Fascination” is probably the wrong word, but I’ve always been drawn to this piece of history. It raises up so much anger and sadness in me. But I can’t turn away from it.

One of the most notable Holocaust survivors is Elie Wiesel. His book Night has touched millions of people, myself included, in a way that few books have ever done. He has made it part of his life’s work to make sure that people learn from the events of the past so that it never happens again. He is constantly involved in humanitarian efforts through his Foundation for Humanity and is being honored on May 16,2011 with the  United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Award ” in recognition of the singular role he has played in establishing and advancing the cause of Holocaust remembrance.” What some may not know is that he is pictured in a famous photo taken after the liberation of the Buchenwald camp. He is the face circled in red, right next to the vertical beam.

The Days of Remembrance continue from May 1 – May 8. This year’s theme is Justice and Accountability in the Face of Genocide: What Have We Learned? This article discusses the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, and the precedents set by them. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. will be holding events during the Days of Remembrance. You can participate online.

Yad Vashem is the World Holocaust Center in Jerusalem. There is so much on this website I just didn’t know what to link to. Go check it out.

Also check out the Holocaust Wing of the Jewish Virtual Library. And this article by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein, President of The International Fellowship of Christians and Jews.

And check out this original trailer of Schindler’s List… a movie by Steven Spielberg about a man who helped save more than 1100 Jews from the death camps.

Song-lyrics Sunday 5/1/11

Today is also Holocaust Remembrance Day. So I decided to look for a song that covers not only the Christian faith, but the Jewish faith as well. I decided on Barlow Girl’s “Never Alone”. The song, which reads like a lament from the book of Psalms, is a cry to God when we feel like God has abandoned us. I can’t imagine anyone feeling that way more than the Jews did during the Holocaust. Some may have given up on God, but I’m sure many held onto their faith, and this is in remembrance of them.

I waited for You today
But You didn’t show
No no no
I needed You today
So where did You go?
You told me to call
Said You’d be there
And though I haven’t seen You
Are You still there?

I cried out with no reply
And I can’t feel You by my side
So I’ll hold tight to what I know
You’re here and I”m never alone

And though I cannot see You
And I can’t explain why
Such a deep, deep reassurance
You’ve placed in my life

We cannot separate
You’re part of me
And though You’re invisible
I’ll trust the unseen


We cannot separate
You’re part of me
And though You’re invisible
I’ll trust the unseen


Check out the acoustic version of the song, which I thought was more fitting: