All The Broken Places – John Boyne

Published By: Random House/Doubleday
Pages: 384
Released On: 15/09/2022

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.

*****

Thanks to NetGalley and Random House for the advanced copy of this title in return for an honest review.

I haven’t read The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas for so long but I don’t think I ever considered there being the need for a sequel. The first one was heart shattering enough, but I was really intrigued to see where he took the story this time.

Because I hadn’t read the first one for a long time, I couldn’t remember the intricacies of it, so at first I wasn’t sure how it linked but it’s nothing a quick Google couldn’t fix. To be honest, it could be read as a standalone story I think, but if you’ve haven’t read book number one recently, it’s worth familiarising yourself with the plot and characters again as you’ll get so much more out of this sequel.

I didn’t find it a sad as the first one – I mean, there’s no war or concentration camps in this for a start. But there’s a different kind of sad, a different kind of melancholy about it. That of children who just so happened to be on the “wrong” side of history, carrying the guilt of actions carried out by their elders. I don’t condone actions carried out in war, but sadly there are always innocents lost, in historical wars and more recent ones, but I’ll be honest, I’ve not given much thought to the children of the “wrong side”. It’s hard to believe young children would have had any participation in any evil acts (or I sure hope they wouldn’t), but because of their association with them, they get painted with the same brush.

I enjoyed John’s choice to tell Gretel’s story at various points in her life. We mostly see her in present day London at 91 years old. But we also see her in 1946, as well as the 50s and the 70s. This could have been confusing but he’s handled it so well that it flows so easily from chapter to chapter.

I understand there’s been a little criticism over John’s description of the Holocaust in his books. I will put my hand up and say I wasn’t aware of this previously. I am not an expert on the war and all things associated with it, but I don’t necessarily read fiction for a 100% true account, that’s what non-fiction is for. Instead I read it for entertainment and for emotion and enjoyment. However, I do understand and respect that others may feel differently, especially if their family has been directly impacted by these particular events. This sequel focusses more on a woman’s emotions about the Holocaust, rather than the event itself.

If I had to choose whether I preferred The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas or this book, I would probably choose this one. The first book was very good for what it was and I enjoyed it, even if it was hard to read at times. But whereas that was plot heavy, this is more of a character-led story and that appeals to me very much. By the end of it, Gretel is as much a real person as I am.

Overall, I find John Boyne one of the best storytellers around and a phenomenal character writer.

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