All the Broken Places by John Boyne: A Sisterhood in the Shadows of a Death Camp

When he wrote The Boy in the Striped Pajamas more than 15 years ago, John Boyne could never have imagined the novel’s impact on his life and career. It has gone on to sell 11 million copies and continue to grow, drawing international audiences to his work and meaning that everything he writes after that will attract attention.

The book for young readers, also read by adults, has a fable-like quality and tells of the friendship between two boys during the Holocaust. One was Bruno, the nine-year-old son of a concentration camp commander, probably Auschwitz as Bruno called him Out-With, and the other was a small, shaved Jew named Shmuel. They met when Bruno saw Shmuel behind the barbed wire.

Boy in striped pajamas It has been translated into dozens of languages, and adapted for film, theatre, ballet and opera. But it has also been criticized by the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum and Memorial, which runs the facility at the former Nazi death camp in Poland, which advises readers to miss the novel and dismiss it. How to describe two boys.

A Twitter debate has developed, which is a bit unfair since the novel is not historical and not set, and the book really raises awareness about gas chambers. But there are concerns about the story being taught as true. In any case, it proved to be a tough encounter for Boyne.

On social media, there were also many objections to his portrayal of transgender issues in his 2019 novel for young readers, My brother’s name is Jessica. An author might be forgiven for concluding that today only those with direct experience on a subject are allowed to write on it, although writers have always relied on imagination and empathy. .

Undeterred, Boyne returns to The Final Solution in his latest novel, All locations are broken, focusing on the consequences for Gretel, Bruno’s sister. He envisions the life she could have led, and how she will handle guilt about her father’s role in the Third Reich.

This book is intended for adults and has an ambitious history spanning eight decades. Readers follow Gretel from her teenage years to the age of 92, as she moves from Poland to post-war France, then 1950s Australia and finally England. Despite a lot of ground, it’s still fast-paced and Boyne – a gifted storyteller – handles his historical material skillfully. Other historical fiction novels under his reign include Crippen, House of Special Purpose and Bounty Rebellion.

Gretel is a compelling, if not always likable, character – perhaps this is intentional – and is more convincingly drawn in old age than as a teenager or young woman. When the novel comes out, she is 91 years old and reluctantly comes into contact with nine-year-old Henry in the apartment below her. He serves as a constant reminder of Bruno – especially since he is struggling and needs her help. When they met, it was as if a ghost had risen from the ashes, especially since she’d seen him at night wearing his striped pajamas. Their relationship is a touching one, captivatingly told despite his violent family background.

In the author’s note, Boyne says he’s been fascinated by the Holocaust since the age of 15, and that by trying to understand, he can only hope to remind and remember. He describes writing about the Holocaust as “tiring”, and says that any novelist who approaches it has a responsibility – not to educate, that belongs in nonfiction, but to explore the emotionally real.


Talented Storyteller: John Boyne. Owen Breslin’s photo

So the truth about emotions in All locations are broken. It explores guilt and complicity, asks whether knowledge is a form of guilt, and examines a life of evasion and deception. Gretel avoids dealings with Nazi hunters and international courts, despite the helpful information she can share and the relief it can bring to survivors and victims’ families. individuals, and at the same time imprisoned for life by lies. Even after more than 60 years in London, she still fears being denounced.

The novel revolves around various timelines, such as Paris in 1946, where Gretel and her mother ran away, changed their names, and disguised themselves with a German accent to survive. They called the concentration camp “another place” without saying its name. Gretel learns from the newspapers that her father has been hanged, and realizes that to most people he is evil – but she still loves him.

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“Who could create such places? Run them, work in them, kill so many people? ‘ asked a French boyfriend. “How can there be such a lack of conscience?” Hearing him speak, Gretel realizes that she will have to lie every day for the rest of her life. Except, of course, that she had the choice whether to lie about her identity or not.

“Tell a story often enough and it comes true,” her mother insisted. Then she said, “These people are unforgivable.” Her daughter retorted, “Honestly, do you think any of us deserve forgiveness?” This is a recurring theme: how guilty are people who see something amiss and look away? Are they also youkai? Do they commit crimes even if they don’t play an active role in running the camps? Will they commit crimes even at a relatively young age and relatively helpless, like 12-year-old Gretel, and always yearning for Kurt, a handsome 19-year-old SS lieutenant she knows is evil. And can these people be redeemed?

In another twist, the action moves to Sydney in 1953, where she reunites with Kurt who, like her, lives under an alias. The most compelling scene in the novel takes place between the two, where he alternates between making excuses for his own behavior and maintaining that if he is guilty, then she shares her guilt. he.

“Your father is a monster. I’m just the monster’s apprentice,” Kurt said. He describes himself as a revealingly dressed teenager, enjoying the power that had come to him as an SS lieutenant – the ability to kick a Jewish servant to death with no consequences, for spilling wine on him. But he also probes how she feels about Nazism being defeated – doesn’t she wish it could be won?

He manufactured a pair of Hitler’s glasses and gave them to her to try on. How does she feel wearing them? She said it was disgusting, repulsed and embarrassed. But so happy. Their exchange is both shocking and believable, and cinematic at its core.

Returning to England, where the years passed, she married and had a son, followed by a mental breakdown when he slipped through a gap in the fence at the end of their apartment complex, and into a demolition site. The fence made her unsafe, and she kept clinging to Bruno across the barbed wire in places she wouldn’t mention.

Towards the end of his story, Boyne takes us back to that wartime and death camp. Feels appropriate to be there again, as a reader. We knew what we would encounter there but the shock did not subside. Yellow stars. The huts. The bodyguards. Striped prisoner uniform. Hopelessness. Emaciation. Dehumanization. And Gretel, the beloved 12-year-old daughter of the commander, who both saw and refused to see.


All the broken places by John Boyne

Fiction Books: All the Broken Places by John Boyne
DoubleCayay, 384 pages, hardcover 28 €; eBook £9.99

Martina Devlin’s latest book is ‘Edith: A Novel’ published by Lilliput Press All the Broken Places by John Boyne: A Sisterhood in the Shadows of a Death Camp

Fry Electronics Team

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