The Boys in the Striped Pyjamas by John Doyne: A Book Review

the-boy-in-th-striped-pyjamas

“A speck that became a blob that became a figure that became a boy.”

I had expected that its ending is tragic enough to blink my tears away. I could not even bring myself to turn the next last pages. I would not have cared if I had violated   one of my rules that I should finish a book no matter how disappointing or revolting it turns out to be. Just I could not withstand seeing what is going to happen next and my heart crying over another ending with which I would be overwhelmed, but I did not want to give in. This was it. Why should I back off? Face whatever the next story is.

Its catchy title written  in  striped -pyjamas   book cover is  enchanting  enough for a reader like me to pick it out from among  the other PDFs saved in my phone document. As you know, I am a poor reader. I avail of the free PDFs available on the internet. Somewhow, I enjoyed reading the book because the prose is light, the scenes are engaging despite that they are the keys to the predictable segue, the main character Bruno is the embodiment of my childhood curiosity, and the story is very unique, something I  have never read from the other  fictions. However, although I may not be a full-fledged writer, I may consider myself climbing on the bandwagon of the armchair writers that it is poor-written, one of the shortcomings that may have let down their high standards.

For me, this is just a light book; it is imbued with ponderous prose. It does not have any hefty words your brains have to weigh in on or cerebrally hemorrhagic sentence structures you have to turn over in your mind (as what a grammar Nazi does.) You can concentrate on it no matter how simple the syntax is except for shrinking from the simplicity and shiftlessness of some sentences John Doyne may not have cared about embellishing them more.

Also, you might find yourself deeply engaged in it because Bruno is such a pig-headed wren. His character is the lubricant of the story. His being a pain in the ass soothes the story to become more calmly enthralling. However, there were times that I would trip over some parts only   experienced and critically acclaimed writers have to know what I am trying to drive at.  Don’t get me wrong. I belong to the armchair writers.

In addition, you would not just be a reader but a soothsayer. You could almost   play in your mind the foretaste of the unexpected. I was wondering if it was John Doyne, not his readers, was (not) born yesterday.  In the first place, I had inferred that Bruno will die at the end because his buttoned-up and power monger father will not educate him about the concentration camp Bruno will mistake for a farm. Oh, poor Bruno. His father’s ignorance of a child’s psyche will accidentally put him to death. Lo and behold, I have read such a tragic ending from the other books. (Thinking) … (Walking back and forth)… (Thinking)… Eureka! I’m Not Scared by Italian writer Niccolò Ammaniti must be one of them. So, it’s another meme of the same idea. Could you help me cite some more?

In effect, the concept of the story brushing off all the shortcomings that did not meet the high standards of the armchair writers is supposed to be impressive. I bought some Doyne’s “literary gimmicks” First, Bruno’s “stupid or idiotic “innocence. I admit to cringing at it because I knew that Bruno was not that stupid enough not to understand everything in the story given that he is two years younger than his sister. A reader   ignorant of child psychology may ask this,” Is there such a cognitive condition?”  Second, the deep friendship between the two boys developed at a barbed boundary. It is something new for me. Third, to make the commonly accidental tragedy memorable, the scene is both Bruno and Shmuel are stuck in a line toward the gas chamber. Finally, unbeknownst to Bruno’s family, he will die in the gas chamber and his loss will remain a mystery. So, after reading the book, I sat speechlessly, imagining the chamber   fading away, and I could no longer hear the cries muffled by the gas poured in. Heart-breaking! Indeed, it is a story readers might never forget.

Writers have drops of ideas plopping in their heads, but the big challenge for them is how to creatively put them together with beautiful prose.  By the same token, they have to psychologize the possible reactions of their readers because nowadays readers are smart. They are now being educated by full access to a plethora of information on the internet.  For this reason, John Doyne should have needed more elbow grease to polish the story.  It could  most likely  get more than two stars. Gee! Indeed, I am an armchair writer.

I have just found its movie adaptation on YouTube. I wonder if it is the other way around. 🙂

Rating: 2/ 5 stars ( It’s ok.)

The Assistant by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

assistantTIME magazine considered this as one of the all-time best novels since 1923, but I wonder why it is not included in the 1001 Best Novels of All Time You must Read Before You Die. I wish it were, along with his Pulitzer Prize Winner ,The Fixer , because this book is so compelling.

Since Bernard Malamud was a Jewish-American writer, he may have thought about what best literary devices or styles he would illustrate in a novel the life of Jew refugees in New York City after the WWII . He may have hit upon the common concept in TV dramas and movies of a boy or man adopted by a good family, then they (family) will be attached to him because he makes a difference in their life, and all the lovey-dovey rage is that there is a daughter will fall for him. In the end, the hero will be cast off when they find out his skeleton in the closet. I am not sure if this concept was very common in the 1950’s. Familiar with this kind of story, I as good as lost my interest in the book as though I compelled myself to finish reading it, as though I could guess what was going to happen then.

Nevertheless, if my surmise were right, I would say that Malamud’s idea is ingenious. He turned the concept into an extraordinary novel. He embellished it with the plot that drove me crazy. I was predisposed to hold my breath, to turn the next page, feeling for the characters’ different personality, perfectly suitable for Malamud’s real motives. Appeared to be slapdash and intended to make it not as artful as other novelists’ writing skills, I still enjoyed reading it like a devil.

The novel deals with the abject situations of the Jewish immigrants who ventured to settle down in America from Tsarist Russia. The story centers around the three main characters: Morris Bober, a grocer, who dreads his failing small grocery store. He is an epitome of a good Jew. I look up to his honesty and magnanimity despite the fact that he has been cheated by his clerk many times; Frank Alpine, a young Italian-American hobo trying to get on his right feet by becoming a clerk in Morris Bober’s grocery. His sexual obsession with the grocer’s daughter gives me an impression that he is such a nuisance of someone’s progress. He even appears to be a tomfool. So I tend to distrust him whether he is sincere or not. Nevertheless, his interest in education and literature tickled my fancy. So I buried myself more in this book, keen on what his life will be in the denouement. Helen Bober, the grocer’s daughter is an epitome of a spinster-to-be – the daughter who chooses to give up on her dreams to study, to help her parents out, a woman who restrains herself from loving the clerk who turns out to be intact.

I will never forget this book, because questions arise whether being uncircumcised and having different religion is a big deal for miscegenation. Uh-oh, I tend to be a bigot when Helen Bober says, “Dog , uncircumcised!” I tend to be beside the point when Helen Bober’s parents object to her relationship with Frank , for “Jews are just for Jews”, and “They suffer for the law of Jews”. Eventually, Frank Alpine, obsessed with Helen, had himself circumcised.

To be more specific, I think Bernard Malamud should have turned the title from The Assistant into The Clerk. ^____^

Rating: 3/ 5 stars ( I liked it.)

The Fixer by Bernard Malamud: A Book Review

the-fixerPOGROM is the word which can give readers an idea of what this book is all about. This means a planned killing of large numbers of people, especially Jews, usually done for reasons of race or religion. In other words, it is synonymous with MASSACRE. The book, therefore, deals with anti-Semitism during Tsarist Russia beyond my knowledge of World History.

This book breaks my heart and makes me feel for the protagonist, Yakov Bok, a Jewish fixer by trade, who dreamed to make something of himself by moving to Kiev after he was ratted out on by his wife Raisl. He was accused of murdering a Christian boy during Passover. He was jailed without official charges and maltreated like an animal, as though I wanted to help him by telling the prejudiced people that he is downright innocent of the crime. In addition, reading right smack dab in the middle of the book makes me abandon myself to the antagonists: Their cruelty, ignorance, and irrationality make me abhor them,particularly the History of Anti-Semiticism. So I am like holding hopes against hopes for Yakov; then, I am kicked in the stomach when his hopes are dashed many times,and when he is almost mentally and physically tortured. Nevertheless, I am impressed by his survival instinct and dogged-determination not to confess to the crime he did not do in spite of repeated torture and degradation.Gee,this book turns out to be a page-turner; I cannot put it down, excited and apprehensive about what may become of the protagonist at the end. Had I not been busy these past few days, I could have finished it for one night.

I would say that this book is deserving of winning the Pulitzer-Prize and National Book Awards despite the fact that Bernard Malamud was said to have plagiarized the book from Beili’ s memoir, The Story of My Sufferings from which he drew inspiration. It is steeped in Spinoza’s philosophy, existentialism, politics, and religion. At the end of the story, Yakov realized that a man is a political animal after all even if he had considered himself apolitical and a freethinker. Essentially, it deals with discrimination against Jews as well as their abject misery under pogrom period as what Bernard Malamud may have intended to tell the world since he was an American-Jewish writer. In fact, this book reminds me of notable novels written on passionate purpose by famous writers to make a big difference- Richard Wright’s Native Son  and Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beecher Stowe on Slavery;A Passage to India  by E. M. Forrester and Noli Me Tangere  by our very own Jose Rizal on Independence Movement and so on. So Bernard Malamud’s is on Anti-Semitism .These kinds of books, regardless of writing skills , that I find remarkable and that should be heralded as good and great books are deserving of 5 stars. So I wonder why this book is not included on the list of 1001 BEST NOVELS OF All TIME EVERYONE MUST READ by The Guardian.

Deeply impressed with Bernard Malamud , I can’t help reading his another notable book, The Assistant, hailed by TIME as one of the 100 best novels of all time since 1924. ^^

Rating: 5/ 5 stars ( It’s amazing.)