“We are not supposed to be friends…Did you know that?” The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

How different are we from one another?

Today, I was in line at the grocery store, and a lady was at the cash register, quietly beeping the products. I have seen this lady a number of times, and as I stacked my coffee, pasta, and yogurt on the register, I wondered if the lady could recognize customers by the products they bought. While my pile of groceries seemed mundane, I wondered, “What would be the craziest thing a person can buy at a grocery store?” Then I wondered about the lady, and I wondered what clothes she preferred to wear on her day off. My mother works as a cashier, and on her days off, she likes to enjoy her morning cup of coffee, and check on her kids who are living in different states, to see how they are doing. What about this lady? I wondered if she has kids? Grand-kids? Or, maybe, no kids? I wondered what kind of customers she saw everyday, what she thought of them, or whether she was curious about them at all. What does this all matter? It really doesn’t. I am just curious.

I first started thinking about this in high school. I was writing a story, and I found myself questioning why I was so shy in front of others. I tried to dissect all of the reasons for my shyness, and while I couldn’t find a suitable answer, I realized that, shy or not, people may not be all that different from each other. Behind the walls of our houses, we are all living similar lives. Or maybe not? Anyways, I was intrigued by this idea. It didn’t matter whether the person was my teacher, doctor, a librarian, or even my boss. I wondered what they were like – as a member of their family, and a member of their own circle of friends – once they took off their “uniforms” and felt free to show all of their quirks and idiosyncrasies. Why? I don’t really know.

Anyway, this came to my mind when I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne. There is a moment in the book when Bruno wonders why he and his new friend, Shmuel, are sitting on opposite sides of the fence. The only difference he can see is that Shmuel has on a pair of striped pajamas (and that Shmuel seems to be overly thin) while he himself has on ‘regular clothes.’ Bruno thinks to himself:

“What exactly was the difference?…And who decided which people wore the striped pajamas and which people wore the uniforms?”

I was stunned by this question. I found that this question resonates with so many moments in history, where people, who really aren’t that much different from each other, have acted cruelly and harshly toward one another because they were separated by different “uniforms.” In particular, I felt that Bruno’s question about who decided which people wore which uniforms was important. There are always people who are in power and people who are subjugated, but the why of the equation does not always seem to make sense. After all, Bruno and Shmuel are both boys. In an “ideal” world (if such a world exists), both should be able to imagine a bright future for themselves. Instead, one of these boys suddenly finds himself and his family living apart from others, separated by a fence, and living a life of uncertainty and fear. And here, I find myself echoing Bruno’s question.

Bruno — a boy who thinks “Heil Hitler” means “Well, goodbye for now, have a pleasant afternoon” — cannot possibly figure out on his own why Shmuel and his family have to wear striped pajamas and live on the opposite side of the fence, unless someone explains to him. But even if someone were to give him an explanation, I wonder if Bruno would understand? Would it make sense to him?

And one final thought came into [Bruno’s] head as he watched the hundreds of people in the distance going about their business, and that was the fact that all of them – the small boys, the big boys, the fathers, the grandfathers, the uncles, the people who lived on their own on everybody’s road but didn’t seem to have any relatives at all – were wearing the same clothes as each other: a pair of grey striped pajamas with a grey striped cap on their heads.

“How extraordinary,” he muttered, before turning away.


<Work Cited>
Boyne, John. The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Random House Children’s Books. Kindle Edition.

“Before Your Eyes Close Forever”: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

“Before Your Eyes Close Forever”:
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

There is a stone called “the Sea of Flames.” It is “a brilliant blue, the blue of tropical seas” with ”a touch of red at its center, like flames inside a drop of water” (20). Centuries ago, a prince plucked it from a stone from a dry riverbed in Borneo because of its beauty. The legend goes that “[t]he keeper of th[is] stone would live forever, but so long as he kept it, misfortune would fall on all those he loved one after another in unending rain” (429). It is said that this stone is inside a vault at the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, where Maurie-Laure’s father works as the master locksmith. Maurie-Laure, a girl who has been blind since she was six years old, is not sure if she wants to believe this.

Marie-Laure remembers the first time when she was able to find her way home without her father’s help:
Right. Then straight. They walk up their street now, she is sure of it. One step behind her, her father tilts his head up and gives the sky a huge smile. Marie-Laure knows this even though her back is to him, even though he says nothing, even though she is blind – Papa’s thick hair is wet from the snow and standing in a dozen angles off his head, and his scarf is draped asymmetrically over his shoulders, and he’s beaming up at the fallen snow (41).
Daniel LeBlanc always found ways to create a safe world for his daughter.

When Germany invades France, Marie-Laure and her father go to stay at her great-uncle’s house in Saint-Malo. In the attic of Entienne’s (Maurie-Laure’s great-uncle) house is a radio transmitter. When Entienne was young, he and his brother, Henri, used to broadcast their own recorded programs for children on the radio. When Henri was killed in the Great War, Entienne came home and built his own radio transmitter so he could broadcast the recordings again. As he confesses to his great-niece, Maurie-Laure, “…I wasn’t trying to reach England. Or Paris. I thought that if I made the broadcast powerful enough, my brother would hear me. That I could bring him some peace, protect him as he had always protected me” (161). When Maurie-Laure asks, “You’d play your brother’s own voice to him? After he died?…Did he ever talk back?” he replies that “No…He never did” (161). Even though Entienne could not reach Henri, he is able to reach two children in Zollverein, Werner and his sister Jutta.

At the orphanage in the coal-mining town of Zollverein, a boy named Werner and his sister, Jutta, listened to the radio as a man with a velvety voice told them:  “Open your eyes…and see what you can with them before they close forever” (48-49).

Once, Jutta asked Werner, “Is it right to do something only because everyone else is doing it?” During WWII, Werner found the opportunity to do what he believed was the right thing.


<Works Cited>
Doerr, Anthony. All the Light We Cannot See: A Novel. Simon & Schuster, 2014.

“A Nightingale’s Song”

“A Nightingale’s Song”
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

(*Minor Spoiler Alert*)

“I hope you never know how fragile you are, Isabelle.”
“I’m not fragile,” she said.
The smile he gave her was barely one at all. “We are all fragile, Isabelle.” (199)

The conversation above is between Isabelle Rossignol and her father, Julien Rossignol, who, after his return from the Great War, and after his wife’s death, has never been the same.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah is about many things – it’s about WWII and how it broke families and individuals, as they witnessed the deaths of many of their loved ones. It’s about how the war changed relationships between friends, neighbors, parents, and children. Mostly, this book is about the bond between two sisters, Vianne and Isabelle Rossignol and how they risk their lives to keep what is rightfully theirs. Vianne and Isabelle assume that they would have a lifetime to fight with each other, misunderstand each other, to feel regret afterwards, and to still love each other through it all as sisters. However, all of this turn out to be luxuries they cannot afford once WWII begins. The Second World War brings Isabelle, Vianne, and their father back together as family, but it does not allow them time to tell each other what they weren’t able to say before – that they loved each other despite everything, and that they forgive each other.

Isabelle thinks:
“Why hadn’t she told them she loved them every day when she had the chance? And now she would die without ever saying a word to Vianne. Vianne, she thought. Only that. The name. Part prayer, part regret, part good-bye” (363).

Vianne thinks:
“The regret she felt was immense, as was the guilt. What had her last words to her sister been? Don’t come back” (366).

Sisters say things all the time. Sometimes what one sister says to the other can leave a scar, but the same sister comes back to heal the wound. That’s what sisters do. Isabelle and Vianne reminded me of myself and my sister, and it scared me to imagine what they must have felt when they realized there wasn’t any time.

Despite of everything that the war brings, those who manage to survive manage to live through the rest of their lives, while holding on to their memories of the people they have lost. As one of her characters state in the novel, Kristin Hannah’s novel shows that, “Wounds heal. Love lasts. We remain” (438).


<Works Cited>
Hannah, Kristin. The Nightingale. St. Martins Press, 2015.