Sixteen years after the publication of his heart-wrenching novel ‘The Boy in Striped
Pyjamas’, John Boyne returns to ‘Out-With’ with a new, equally compelling perspective.
Told this time from the perspective of Gretel, Bruno’s older sister, John Boyne guides
readers through her lifetime of struggling to reconcile with the events of Nazi Germany and
her own culpability.
As a young woman in the years immediately following the defeat of Nazi Germany, Gretel
moves from Paris to Australia to London. She hides her true identity at any cost, knowing
that Nazis hunters would delight in finding the daughter of the ‘Devil of Auschwitz’ to
avenge their years of persecution. Yet no matter how far she travels, she can’t leave her
past behind her.
In the modern, post COVID-19 pandemic world, Gretel lives in a luxurious Mayfair apartment,
where she has finally found a semblance of peace. However, when a family moves into the
flat downstairs, it seems as though ghosts of her past has come to haunt her again.
Hugo is nine years old. He loves reading and wants to be an explorer.
Gretel has always tried to keep her distance from young boys, including her own son Caden,
who may remind her of her brother.
It soon becomes apparent that all is not well in the flat downstairs. It would be easier to
turn a blind eye, to ignore the sounds of screaming and the broken limbs and bruises.
Hugo, with his obvious parallels to Bruno, represents Gretel’s chance of redemption. But
this will come at the cost of finally exposing her Nazi past and facing the consequences she
had avoided for over eighty years. Could she sacrifice herself to save another?
‘All the Broken Places’ is a novel of guilt, trauma, reconciliation, and atonement.
Throughout her life Gretel struggles to come to terms with her role with the Nazi regime,
and the suffering it caused millions. She had once been proud to rise her arm and salute the
Fuhrer. She had approved of her father’s mission in ‘that other place.’ And she had believed
she was among the superior race, and the Jews in the farm weren’t really people at all.
But she was only 12 years old. What else could she have done?
Years of indoctrination have left their scars and bubble up to the surface at the most
unlikely moments. In a pivotal scene, Gretel encounters a ghost from her time at ‘that other
place’ and is forced to confront her darkest thoughts. She is offered the opportunity to put
on the glasses of the Fuhrer- to literally see the world the way he had. Gretel is disgusted,
but she also feels powerful. Life would have been better for her if the Nazis had won, and a
part of her wishes they had.
Gretel is a flawed character and times intensely dislikeable. Yet she is also deeply
traumatised by her own culpability, her brother’s death, and her battle to survive in the
post-war world. She cannot say Auschwitz, preferring to call it ‘that other place.’ Unlike
Bruno who naively mistook the name for ‘Out-With’, Gretel is purposefully trying to
suppress her memories. She is unable to escape the intense feelings of guilt and
‘ALL THE BROKEN PLACES’ IS A STARK REMINDER OF THE DESTRUCTIVE NATURE OF WAR. WITHOUT OVERSIMPLIFYING OR HOMOGENISING THE EXPERIENCES OF THOSE AFFECTED, WE CAN DRAW PARALLELS WITH MODERN DAY CONFLICTS TO AID OUR UNDERSTANDING AND EMPATHY TOWARDS THOSE WHOSE LIVES CONTINUE TO BE DOMINATED BY VIOLENCE AND SUFFERING.
In war, no one is truly a victor. John Boyne masterfully depicts the fallout on both sides. The
Allies may have won, but few are left without lingering scars of their trauma.
Boyne raises questions of historical responsibility: how to hold those complicit in Nazi
crimes to account, and how to collectively process the events of WWII and move on.
There is no obvious solution, and there never will be. Yet novels like this have the power to
remind readers of the real people affected by war. Although fictional, the characters have
been written so vividly in all their human complexities that we can sympathise with their
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