Monday 19 September 2022

All the Broken Places (The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas #2) by John Boyne (2022)

The long-awaited sequel to the global bestseller, 


The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is John Boyne's latest novel for adults.

1946. Three years after a cataclysmic event which tore their lives apart, a mother and daughter flee Poland for Paris, shame, and fear at their heels, not knowing how hard it is to escape your past.

Nearly eighty years later, Gretel Fernsby lives a life that is a far cry from her traumatic childhood. When a couple moves into the flat below her in her London mansion block, it should be nothing more than a momentary inconvenience. However, the appearance of their nine-year-old son Henry brings back memories she would rather forget.

Faced with a choice between her own safety and his, Gretel is taken back to a similar crossroads she encountered long ago. Back then, her complicity dishonoured her life, but to interfere now could risk revealing the secrets she has spent a lifetime protecting.

It is a riveting follow-up to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and it works incredibly well as a standalone.
The story is told with a dual timeline of Gretel's post-war life and the present. The frequent shift between past and present made compulsive reading and I devoured this book in one day.
Gretel is a very human and complex character who grappled with grief, guilt and fear for her entire adult life. She kept her identity secret for a lifetime and even as an old woman the thought of confronting her past and opening old wounds would leave her emotional and upset. There was no way she could right the wrongs of her past but I thought it fitting that she had the chance to make a difference in one little boy's life and in a way atone for her sins.

A couple of things about Gretel's life appeared odd to me- On the run from Nazi hunters and the like she and her mother chose Paris to hide in after the war and with their German accents not well disguised. Also, when Gretel was slightly older she didn't recognise that David was Jewish. These little oddities aside, the book is very fast-paced, and dark but greatly entertaining. 
Some people might get hung up on whether the book is historically accurate but as a work of fiction, it works. It is simply inspired by events in WWII and at the same time, it raises thought-provoking questions about what faced the ordinary Germans who had to adapt to post-war Europe.

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