The Boy in the Striped Pajamas and Hello Summer Goodbye
I didn’t like either of these novels so I’ll be brief…
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
During the latter stages of the Second World War, nine year old Bruno moves with his family from their home in Berlin to ‘Out-With.’ A nasty man called ‘the Fury’ has recently come around for dinner, informing Bruno’s father that he is to be the new commander of Out-With camp. At the camp, young Bruno sees a lot of people milling around outside wearing striped pajamas.
News flash. ‘Out-With’ is Auschwitz and ‘the Fury’ is the Fuhrer, i.e. Adolf Hitler. Perhaps a young adult wouldn’t get this straight away. What follows is a narrative that seems reasonable enough at the time, but perplexingly unrealistic on reflection. The linguistic gimmicks described above make some kind of sense in English, but none in German. Worse, Bruno is supposed to be entirely naive as to the nature of the war and the reality of Auschwitz, even when he has been living there for several weeks. The narrative, which sees Bruno befriend a Jewish boy named Schmuel on the other side of the fence, is poignant enough. The ending is devastating and (for me) unexpected. But this is a book that leaves an unpleasant taste in my mouth, and it’s not due to the subject matter.
It seems to me that if you want to write a young adult novel about Auschwitz, you need to tread carefully. Boyne has trodden carefully all right – to the point where his novel bears very little resemblance to the realities of WWII, the Nazis and the Final Solution. Perhaps I’m being overly grumpy about this, but I see at as a supremely arrogant action to reduce these atrocities to a neat parable about a nice young boy named Bruno and his friend Schmuel.
Hello Summer, Goodbye by Michael Coney.
If Boyne’s novel has achieved a high profile in the two years since it was published, then Coney’s novel has close to zero profile. Hailed as a ‘minor classic’ when it was recently re-published by PS Publishing, I found this novel to be more minor than classic. This is a shame as I have had a high opinion of Hello Summer, Goodbye for about the past eight years, since I first read it. That line about never reading the same book twice or stepping into the same river springs to mind here.
I can’t be bothered summarising this novel’s plot, but suffice to say that is a routine (though quaint) science fiction tale concerning the rites of passage of young Alixa-Drove. Predictably, the fate of the entire (alien) world is at stake, mirroring the disruptions in Drove’s own psyche. Drove is our hero, and Pallahaxi-Browneyes is our love interest. This touched a chord with me at age 18 or 19, but I find it nauseating now. I also thought Hello Summer, Goodbye had a strong but sad ending, which it does. The ending is bitter and strong, like good coffee. But this author’s craft leaves much to be desired. If this seems dismissive, then I apologise, but it is because my expectations for this book did not match the reality.
Coney died a couple of years ago. Before he died, he released the unpublished sequel, I Remember Pallahaxi, on his website. Then PS Publishing stepped in and agreed to publish the sequel, which they have now done. So the sequel is no longer on Coney’s website. Luckily for me, the novel in its entirety is still on the now-defunct Infinity Plus website. It probably isn’t supposed to be.
If you are interested in these novels, the new PS Publishing editions are beautifully presented, though they are too expensive for me to consider: