Culture · Historical Fiction · History

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain – John Boyne

★★★★

This is another book from John Boyne, author of ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. My friend bought me this for my birthday and after reading Edward Rutherford’s ‘New York’, I wanted to read a book that I knew wouldn’t take me ages.

Personally, I didn’t enjoy ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. So, I don’t think I would have picked this book up for myself.

I love historical fiction, especially anything to do with the Holocaust or World War 2. I’m also a history buff. I studied History at University. It’s a passion of mine so when I read historical fiction, I want it to be fairly accurate. This is why I didn’t really enjoy ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas’. I found it very, very, very hard to believe that the events in that book could have happened. So, when I started reading ‘The Boy at the Top of the Mountain’, I was hoping that it would be more realistic.

In 1930, Pierrot is a young boy. His father is a violent drunk who is still traumatised by what he witnessed during WW1. He is married to a French woman, however he is German and firmly believes that Germany is the greatest country in the world. He is constantly telling Pierrot never to forget his German roots and speaks of Germany claiming back what is rightfully theirs.

Pierrot’s mother dies young, leaving him an orphan. He is put in a home where he is badly bullied. Then, his aunt Beatrix, who Pierrot does not know, offers him a home in a mountainside building. She doesn’t own it. She is a maid there. So, Pierrot moves to the Berghof.

I personally found it hard to put myself in the shoes of the intended audience (young adult). When I read the word ‘Berghof’, I instantly knew where the story was going. ‘Ohhh dear, trouble ahead’, I thought to myself. That’s because I knew all about the Berghof. I’m not sure the intended audience would. I wouldn’t have know at that age if it wasn’t for my obsession with the Third Reich (Geeky, I know). Would they realise who the special guest at the Berghof is? Will they understand why the Berghof is covered in red, white and black decorations? I’m not sure. I know if some of my friends had read this book at the age of the intended audience, they wouldn’t have a clue.

Aside from that, I thoroughly enjoyed the book. As you may have guessed, Pierrots pleasantness decreases swiftly once he arrives at the Berghof. The special guest who sometimes stays at the Berghof takes a special interest in Pierrot and makes him feel untouchable. He adopts Nazi ideals and becomes detestable.

I think John Boyne took a risk with making the main character dislikeable, however, I think it worked. It teaches the intended audience a lesson. The lessons that came through for me were the following:

  • No one is untouchable. Even people with immense power and influence can come crashing back down to earth.
  • Always be true to yourself.
  • And the most important one, which John Boyne puts at the end of the novel. ‘Don’t ever tell yourself that you didn’t know’. I found this to be perfectly fitting for the time period of this novel. The lesson is simple. Don’t try to make yourself feel better by telling yourself that you didn’t know about injustice. Turning a blind eye is drastically different to genuinely not knowing.

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