The Boy on Top of the Mountain (J. Boyne)

After The boy in the striped pajamas and My father went to war, John boyne delivers us with The boy on top of the mountain, a new novel still as original, poignant and very emotional on the Second World War. Through the candid and naive vision of a child, he is interested in enrolling in a sinister ideology: Nazism of course. The Irish author thus introduces us to the young Pierrot, more French and kind than ever, becoming the cruel and cynical Pieter, proud member of the Hitler Youth.


Pierrot lives peacefully in Paris with his parents, his dog D'Artagnan and his best friend Anshel. However, his father is doing badly, a former German soldier married to a French woman, he suffers from trauma resulting from the Great War. Pierrot then sees his family environment collapse, first of all by the fits of violence of his father, a violence which leads him to suicide. But the drama does not end there: the disease does not take long to take its mother. Orphaned, Pierrot is finally taken in by his aunt, of whom he does not know anything, except that she is the governess of a large residence in Austria. But not just any house because it is Berghof, Hitler's residence. It is a new life that begins for the little boy, a life that will profoundly change him.

Our opinion

John Boyne is not wasting our time. From the first chapter we know that we will be dealing with an emotionally intense and sad novel. With a formidable ease of writing allowing access to this book to a young audience - the book is published by Gallimard Jeunesse - it takes us with intelligence and pedagogy in the collateral damage of the war. Not those resulting from battles or massacres but the psychological damage of those who knew but did nothing, or worse who pretended not to know. He shows us the merciless change of a child certainly naive but nevertheless intelligent in the face of uprooting and the unknown, a child gradually becoming a monster alongside the one he takes as a model and protector: Hitler. This would be the only downside we could bring to this historical novel, the "conversion" of Pierrot into Pieter taking place with radical speed and simplicity. The fact remains that John Boyne raises multiple and interesting issues: the innocence and vulnerability of the child, the loss of reference and enrollment, the weight of responsibility and suffering even in the reconstruction of 'after the war with the duty to remember.

On the historical side, the story skilfully fits into the events of World War II. The action taking place in a rural and peaceful setting, far from any hustle and bustle, the author knows how to relate us to reality with small details, carefully scattered throughout the pages. We are obviously thinking of the presence of people from Hitler's direct entourage such as Himmler or Goebbels but also of others less known such as the architect Albert Speer presenting plans for a post-war Berlin or the filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl making a propaganda film. John Boyne thus immerses us in his history and challenges us all the more effectively, which is not without provoking strong resonances with our current events.

John Boyne, The boy at the top of the mountain, Éditions Gallimard Jeunesse, Paris, 2016.

Video: Book Trailer - The Boy at the Top of the Mountain (January 2022).