Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Reading John Boyne’s A History of Loneliness was like a revelation. It was excruciating and exquisite and so, so powerful.
When given the chance to read his latest, The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, I was all over it.
In 1936 Paris, Pierrot lives with his French mother and German father. His father is shattered by his experiences in the First World War and as the mood towards Germans shift, he starts to drink more and more. Pierrot’s best friend is a deaf Jewish boy who lives downstairs. When Pierrot is left an orphan, he ends up in the care of his father’s sister, Beatrix, who he has never met. He has to leave behind everything he knows: his school, his home, his best friend, his dog.
Beatrix works as a housekeeper at the Berghof, Hitler’s alpine retreat. Eight year old Pierrot becomes Pieter as he falls in thrall to Hitler, the Fuhrer taking a shine to the young man. As he grows up at the Berghof and as the war hurtles forward towards it’s horrific apex, Pieter must decide where his loyalties lie.
This book was so good. It’s only 215 pages – I think it’s actually meant as a children’s book – but it is such a perfectly crafted little story. I loved this idea of a child under the care of Hitler (ok, loved is maybe the wrong word. I loved it as a plot device. As an actual thing, it’s obviously terrifying), away from the actual consequences of actions. Boyne does an incredible job of illustrating the climate of the time, how easy it was to get caught up in the furor over the Fuhrer.
And the end! The end was masterful. Oh, I was delighted by the end.
What Boyne has done here, create a story about an incredibly dark period in human history that is suitable for children and adults, is no small feat.