A thoughtful, deep, and emotional examination of guilt, complicity, and grief — skillfully written by John Boyne (a favorite author of mine) as a sequel his most famous novel, THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS. I gave this one five stars on Goodreads.
For those who have read already STRIPED PAJAMAS, ALL THE BROKEN PLACES is the story of that German boy’s older sister Gretel, who survived World War II, fleeing from Poland to France with her mother. The book tells Gretel’s life story in alternating chapters. One thread follows her story in the years immediately after the end of the war as she comes of age in France, Australia, and finally settling in London. The second follows her story as a ninety+-year old retiree meeting a new family moving in downstairs while she is also providing support to an aging neighbor across the hall. Though they sound like two disconnected threads, they will fit together at the end.
The horrors of the Holocaust are front and center throughout, as they were in STRIPED PAJAMAS. It’s not just Gretel trying to come to terms with her culpability and memories. In post-war Europe, others in her life are trying to do the same. And the author raises complex questions. Are all Germans equally responsible? What about German children? At what age does someone have to be to be culpable? What revenge are survivors entitled to? Is it possible to ever forgive someone who played even a minor role? Is it possible for Germans to ever forgive themselves?
I was fascinated by Boyne’s exploration of the different ways humans deal with difficult emotions and earlier trauma. Some remain in denial. Others hide their responsibility from even the closest people in their lives. Still others bury their memories so deeply, as though they don’t even exist. But ultimately, all, survivors and living victims on both sides, pay a lifelong price.
I can’t say it’s a fun book to read. It’s challenging to consider all the dimensions Boyne presents. But it’s as moving a story as I’ve ever read and completely absorbing, despite the inherent tragedy. Definitely deserving of five stars.
More about the author, John Boyne.
You may be interested in my review of other books by Boyne:
A TRAVELER AT THE GATES OF WISDOM