By Andrew Lapin
A best-selling children’s novel that the Auschwitz Memorial and Museum has said “should be avoided by anyone who studies or teaches about the history of the Holocaust” is getting a sequel.
John Boyne, the Irish author of “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” announced Wednesday that he would be publishing a follow-up to the 2006 blockbuster about a 9-year-old German boy’s friendship with a Jewish child imprisoned at Auschwitz.
The new book, he said, would be told from the perspective of the German boy’s sister, Gretel.
The announcement comes just weeks after “The Boy in the Striped Pajamas,” which has sold 11 million copies and spawned a movie adaptation that grossed $44 million, faced a fresh round of scathing criticism over its historical inaccuracies amid a controversy over Holocaust education in Tennessee. There, a local school board removed “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning graphic memoir, from the local curriculum, sparking a national conversation about how to teach children about the Holocaust.
“Maus” author Art Spiegelman said he’d be fine with students reading another Holocaust book instead — just not, he said, Boyne’s. “The guy didn’t do any research whatsoever,” Spiegelman told a Tennessee audience.
The new book, “All The Broken Places,” will be published in September in the United States by Doubleday and Penguin Random House and in the United Kingdom by Transworld. Global rights in more than a dozen other countries already signed, Boyne tweeted.
Set in the decades between 1946 and the present day, the book will follow a 91-year-old Gretel, older sister to the first book’s protagonist Bruno, as she reflects on her life “scarred by guilt and grief” and the ways in which “her complicity dishonoured her life,” according to the publisher’s release. In the first book, Gretel and Bruno’s father was an S.S. commandant, and Bruno eventually walked into the extermination chambers in Auschwitz so he could be with his Jewish friend Shmuel.
The follow-up will be set in Paris, Sydney and London, and will initially follow Greta and her mother’s escape from Poland at the end of the war “after a cataclysmic event which tore their lives apart,” according to the book description.
Boyne told The Bookseller that, since the publication of the first book, “I’ve regularly made notes in a file that I called ’Gretel’s Story.’ It was a book I hoped to write one day, telling the story of Bruno’s older sister Gretel who, at the end of her life, looks back at the experience she was part of and is forced to examine her conscience regarding her guilt and complicity in those times.”
The first book, which uses the British “Pyjamas” spelling in its U.K. edition, was adapted into a 2008 movie and has proven an enduring international bestseller and perennial Holocaust education tool in the United Kingdom, despite scathing criticism from Holocaust researchers and other Holocaust authors. It has been dinged for inaccuracies including Shmuel’s continued survival in a camp that would have gassed him with the other children upon arrival, and the lack of youth-centered Nazi propaganda directed at Bruno, who is depicted as utterly ignorant of the Jewish genocide project despite his father’s position as an Auschwitz guard.
According to British education observers, the book’s prominence in classrooms may perpetuate myths and fallacies about the Holocaust; many children who read the book believe that it is based on a true story.
The book has also been criticized for depicting Bruno’s death, and his German parents’ grief, as the true tragedy at the heart of the story, while the dead Jews serve largely as window dressing.
For his part, Boyne has defended his book, which he said was inspired by the works of Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel, from critics. In response to the Auschwitz museum’s criticisms, he told The Guardian that because his novel is fiction, it “by its nature cannot contain inaccuracies, only anachronisms, and I don’t think there are any of those in there.”
Boyne is the author of more than a dozen novels on various subjects, and more recently came under fire for a 2019 book that contained controversial depictions of transgender characters.