by John Boyne
It’s 1936 and seven-year-old Pierrot Fischer is living in Paris with his French mother. Pierrot’s German father, who was afflicted by his service in the Great War, left the family shortly after Pierrot’s fourth birthday. Although he misses his father deeply, Pierrot is content with his life in Paris with his mother, particularly as he has his best friend, Anshel, to keep him company.
One day Pierrot’s mother coughs up blood and a few short weeks later she is dead. Pierrot is now an orphan, all alone in the world. He stays with Anshel and his mother for a while, but the single mother doesn’t make enough money to support two children so Pierrot is eventually sent to an orphanage.
“THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN...adds a fresh and important viewpoint on WWII and the Holocaust for readers of all ages.”
Life is difficult for Pierrot at the orphanage. However, his stay there is short-lived as Pierrot’s aunt Beatrix, who he has never met, has been tracked down and wants Pierrot to come live with her. She lives in Austria and is a maid at The Berghof, which is located in the Bavarian Alps. Pierrot’s life is about to change irrevocably, as is the trajectory of the world.
In preparation for Pierrot’s first meeting with the master of the house, Beatrix outfits Pierrot in traditional German attire, informs him that he will now be called Pieter and instructs him not to discuss his life in Paris --- especially not his friend Anshel. You see, The Berghof is the country home of Adolf Hitler.
At first, Pieter doesn’t know what to make of the Fuhrer and the Fuhrer, who has very little experience with children, doesn’t know what to make of Pieter. However, it is not long before the two become companions and confidantes.
THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN follows Pieter’s stay at The Berghof until 1945. During the nine years that Pieter is acquainted with Hitler, the Fuhrer’s influence on him grows. This influence alters Pieter’s thoughts, shapes his beliefs and, ultimately, dictates his choices and actions.
Just as Boyne does in THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, he examines the events of WWII and the Holocaust through the eyes of the child or an innocent. However, unlike THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN takes a much more critical stance on what it means to be innocent and who is culpable for the atrocities committed during this time period. In many ways, Pierrot/Pieter represent all those who became aware of Hitler’s actions over the course of time, but did nothing to stop them. Pierrot enters The Berghof an innocent child unaware of the differences between people, but Pieter leaves nine years later well aware of the supposed differences between “people” and the steps the Fuhrer took to purify his people and eliminate these differences.
THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN, just like Boyne’s THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PAJAMAS, adds a fresh and important viewpoint on WWII and the Holocaust for readers of all ages. But like all great literature, the questions and themes that arise in THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN can be applied across situations and time periods. And are, in many ways, just as relevant, if not more relevant, to today than to the setting of the book.
Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on July 20, 2016