Review of The Boy at the Top of the Mountain – John Boyne

Posted: September 27, 2019 in general fiction, Review
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 When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his Aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy household at the top of the German mountains. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.

Quickly, Pierrot is taken under Hitler’s wing, and is thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets and betrayal, from which he may never be able to escape.

The Boy at the Top of the Mountain

John Boyne

Doubleday

Supplied by Penguin Random House New Zealand

Reviewed by Jan Butterworth

Pierrot lives with his French mother in Paris after his German father died.  He has a dog, D’Artagnen, and a best friend, Anshel, and life is good.    In 1936 his mother dies and the seven year old is sent to an orphanage in the French countryside as he can’t stay with Anshel.  He eventually is told that his paternal aunt has heard about his mothers death and wants him to live with her.

Riding a train to Austria and his aunt, he is collected by a brusque stranger and delivered to a grand house nestled in the hills, miles from town. After a brisk bath given by a maid, he meets his aunt and finds out she is the housekeeper for an important man.  Pierrot is renamed Pieter by his aunt – to sound more German – and told not to mention he is French and never ever to mention his best friend or his name.  Then the home’s owner arrives and Pieter greets him with how he was coached by his aunt, a Nazi salute.  The next nine years of his life at the Berghof is then told.

After the war Pieter learns the full extent of the war he has been complicit in and can no longer pretend Hitler and the Nazi’s weren’t monsters.  Years later he returns to Paris to find out Anshel’s fate.

I was sympathetic towards Pierrot at first – a little boy who has lost everything and thrust into a new life where he has to lie about himself – but that changed to dislike as he falls under the influence of Hitler and, in betraying his aunt, becomes Pieter.  He’s blind to what’s happening around him and innocently passes on conversations with his school friends that cause them and their families to disappear.

There are plenty of little hints about the horrors to come but I can see them because of hindsight. If I was living back then I doubt I would  have realised what was going on – being in my own happy little world most of the time – I would only notice when it affected me.  Maybe this explains a little about the acceptance of the German and European people to the Third Reich’s rise to power.

Written by the author of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, this is a well written story that is well-plotted and powerful.  I highly recommend this thought-provoking story though it might be too much for younger readers.

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