John Boyne is a fine writer. All the Broken Places, his sequel to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, examines the nature of grief and guilt, of living a long life of secrets. Its some years since I read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas but All the Broken Places stands on its own and can be read independently. Gretel Fernsby is ninety-one. It is London 2022 as she nervously awaits the new neighbours expected to move into the downstairs flat. She likes familiarity, routine, being anonymous. Gretel carries the guilt of something that happened in the war and which she has hidden, and lived with, for eighty years. The opening sentence sets up the story succinctly. ‘If every man is guilty of all the good he did not do, as Voltaire suggested, then I have spent a lifetime convincing myself that I am innocent of all the bad.’ Boyne explores the concepts of individual and collective guilt, of the sin of inaction, of the culpability of children and the offence of looking away.
Gretel’s younger brother was The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, their father commandant at Auschwitz. She buried all memories of her brother, unable to speak his name or say it silently in her own head, but is unable to forget him. We follow her life after the war, to France and Australia and finally to England. Always, she lives a life of secrets. Until the past comes bursting forth when nine-year old Henry moves in downstairs and Gretel sees his tears, his bruises, his silences. The memories come flooding back. As she considers whether to step in and defend Henry, she must risk revealing what she has hidden for eighty years. Will Gretel find a kind of peace?
It’s the best book I’ve read so far in 2023. There are surprises at the end, some beautiful detail. Emotional but never sentimental, Boyne doesn’t shy away from the horror of the Holocaust. Powerful and uncomfortable.
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Read more about THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS here.
Click the title to read my reviews of these other novels by John Boyne:-
A LADDER TO THE SKY
A TRAVELLER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM
A HISTORY OF LONELINESS
STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND THEN LEAVE
THE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES
If you like this, try:-
‘The Aftermath’ by Rhidian Brook
‘Inflicted’ by Ria Frances
‘The Bird in the Bamboo Cage’ by Hazel Gaynor
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