Arts & Culture
A tale of friendship during World War II
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas
Told through the eyes of an eight-year-old boy during World War II and his relationship with another boy held in a concentration camp, The Boy In Striped Pyjamas is written by former UEA graduate John Boyne.
The award-winning novel, The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas, opened on the big screen in September 2008 featuring a strong British cast including Sheila Hancock.
An unforgettable tale of a forbidden friendship between the son of a Nazi commandant and a Jewish boy held captive in a concentration camp, the film is based on the novel written by John Boyne, a former graduated of the University Of East Anglia in Norwich.
BBC Norfolk's Louise Priest spoke to Mr Boyne and asked him to explain the reasoning behind the title.
JB: Bruno is the central character of this book, a nine-year-old boy. He's taken away from his comfortable home in Berlin by his father, a soldier, to a concentration camp outside Krakow.
He forms a friendship with a boy of his own age, Shmuel, a young Jewish boy, on the opposite side of the fence.
This boy is wearing what Bruno perceives to be a uniform of striped pyjamas, and of course we know this uniform has a far more sinister meaning.
LP: What inspired you to write this story?
JB: It was quite a strange thing. The idea for the book came to me four years ago and unlike other novels, I just sat down and started writing it.
I had this idea of the two boys talking across the fence. I knew where the fence was, what they were doing there and I really wanted to tell the story. It flowed out of me over a few days.
I became attached to it and tried to maintain a sensitivity and non-trivialising approach to the subject matter of the holocaust, but it was a difficult one.
LP: Is there an element of truth in it?
JB: It's not based on a specific person but Rudolph Hoess, the commandant of Auschwitz for most of the war, did in fact bring his wife and children to the camp and they lived there for a number of years.
Shmuel, on the other side of the fence to Bruno
It's not based on him but many Nazi officers brought their children to the camps so that has informed the story for sure. The Jewish boy Shmuel was representative of millions of children who were brought to the camps.
LP: How involved have you been with the film?
JB: Quite a bit, the director involved me in the process and sent me drafts of the screenplay to read and comment on.
I spent quite a bit of time in Budapest last summer when we were shooting the movie and in the lead up to it being realised as a film I have been quite involved.
I feel its a very faithful adaptation of the book and also as a movie, it stands firmly on its terms as well.
LP: What do you think of the film?
JB: I'm thrilled by it. With a book like this that's so important to me and care so much about, there's a certain nervousness of course and apprehension at the start.
What will happen to it? - I think he [the director] has done a terrific job.
LP: It must be lovely to see your book come to life.
JB: One of the strangest experiences was out in Budapest, seeing the actors dressed as the parents in the book of the boys and seeing them in costume, in character, performing scenes I wrote on the computer in the corner of my living room back in Dublin. It's kind of a surreal experience but a terrific one.
LP: The ending is described as dramatic and shocking. Without giving away too much is it a happy or sad ending?
JB: Its certainly not a happy ending that's for sure, but it's a very truthful ending which is most important.
I have been asked a lot over the past year or so if the ending of the book is the same as the movie. It's exactly the same, it's truthful to the lives of the people who were brought to those camps.
I think it's the most appropriate ending to a story like this. It's definitely shocking and not necessarily what you expect from a typical movie.
LP: You're a UEA graduate, so you learnt all your creative writing skills here?
JB: Yes, I did the creative writing course under Malcolm Bradbury in 1994 and I also taught on the course as the writer in residence three or four years ago so I know Norwich really well, I love it there.
The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas opened at cinemas nationwide on Friday, 12 September, 2008.
last updated: 12/09/2008 at 18:19