The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, is another extraordinary historical fiction about World War II and innocence in the face of evil.
When Pierrot becomes an orphan, he must leave his home in Paris for a new life with his aunt Beatrix, a servant in a wealthy Austrian household. But this is no ordinary time, for it is 1935 and the Second World War is fast approaching; and this is no ordinary house, for this is the Berghof, the home of Adolf Hitler.
Pierrot is quickly taken under Hitler's wing and thrown into an increasingly dangerous new world: a world of terror, secrets, and betrayal from which he may never be able to escape. This title has Common Core connections.
|Product dimensions:||5.13(w) x 7.67(h) x 0.77(d)|
|Age Range:||10 - 14 Years|
About the Author
John Boyne is the author of many books for adults and for children, including The Boy at the Top of the Mountain, Stay Where You Are and Then Leave and the #1 New York Times-bestselling The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. He lives in Dublin, Ireland.
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The Boy at the Top of the Mountain
By John Boyne
Henry Holt and CompanyCopyright © 2015 John Boyne
All rights reserved.
Three Red Spots on a Handkerchief
Although Pierrot Fischer's father didn't die in the Great War, his mother, Émilie, always maintained it was the war that killed him.
Pierrot wasn't the only seven-year-old in Paris who lived with just one parent. The boy who sat in front of him at school hadn't laid eyes on his mother in the four years since she'd run off with an encyclopedia salesman, while the classroom bully, who called Pierrot "Le Petit" because he was so small, had a room above his grandparents' tobacco shop on the Avenue de la Motte-Picquet, where he spent most of his time dropping water balloons from the upstairs window onto the heads of passersby below and then insisting that it had nothing to do with him.
And in an apartment on the ground floor of his own building on the nearby Avenue Charles-Floquet, Pierrot's best friend, Anshel Bronstein, lived alone with his mother, Madame Bronstein, his father having drowned two years earlier during an unsuccessful attempt to swim the English Channel.
Having been born only weeks apart, Pierrot and Anshel had grown up practically as brothers, one mother taking care of both babies when the other needed a nap. But unlike a lot of brothers, they never argued. Anshel had been born deaf, so the boys had developed a sign language early on, communicating easily and expressing through nimble fingers everything they needed to say. They even created special symbols for each other to use instead of their names. Anshel gave Pierrot the sign of the dog, as he considered his friend to be both kind and loyal, while Pierrot adopted the sign of the fox for Anshel, who everyone said was the smartest boy in their class.
They spent most of their time together, kicking a soccer ball around in the Champ de Mars and reading the same books. So close was their friendship that Pierrot was the only person Anshel allowed to read the stories he wrote in his bedroom at night. Not even Madame Bronstein knew that her son wanted to be a writer.
This one's good, Pierrot would sign, his fingers fluttering in the air as he handed back a bundle of pages. I liked the bit about the horse and the part where the gold is discovered hidden in the coffin. This one's not so good, he would continue, handing back a second sheaf. But that's because your handwriting is so terrible that I wasn't able to read some parts. ... And this one, he would add, waving a third pile in the air as if he were at a parade. This one doesn't make any sense at all. I'd throw this one away if I were you.
It's experimental, signed Anshel, who didn't mind criticism but could sometimes be a little defensive about the stories his friend enjoyed the least.
No, signed Pierrot, shaking his head. It just doesn't make any sense. You should never let anyone read this one. They'll think you've lost your marbles.
Pierrot, too, liked the idea of writing stories, but he could never sit still long enough to put the words down on the page. Instead, he sat on a chair opposite his friend and just started signing, making things up or describing some escapade at school, and Anshel would watch carefully before transcribing them for him later.
"So did I write this?" Pierrot would ask when he was finally given the pages and read through them.
"No, I wrote it," Anshel replied, shaking his head. "But it's your story."
Émilie, Pierrot's mother, rarely talked about his father anymore, although the boy still thought of him constantly. Wilhelm Fischer had lived with his wife and son until three years earlier, but he left Paris in the summer of 1933, a few months after his son's fourth birthday. Pierrot remembered his father as a tall man who would mimic the sounds of a horse as he carried the boy on his broad shoulders through the streets, breaking into an occasional gallop that always made Pierrot scream with delight. He taught his son German, to remind him of his ancestry, and did his best to help him learn simple songs on the piano, although Pierrot knew he would never be as accomplished as his father. Papa played folk songs that brought tears to the eyes of visitors, particularly when he sang along in that soft but powerful voice that spoke of memory and regret. If his musical skills were not great, Pierrot made up for this with his skill at languages; he could flit between speaking German to his father and French to his mother with no difficulty whatsoever. His party trick was singing "La Marseillaise" in German and then "Das Deutschlandlied" in French, a skill that sometimes made dinner guests uncomfortable.
"I don't want you doing that anymore, Pierrot," Maman told him one evening after his performance had caused a mild disagreement with some neighbors. "Learn something else if you want to show off. Juggling. Magic tricks. Standing on your head. Anything that doesn't involve singing in German."
"What's wrong with German?" asked Pierrot.
"Yes, Émilie," said Papa from the armchair in the corner, where he had spent the evening drinking too much wine, something that always left him brooding over the bad experiences that haunted him. "What's wrong with German?"
"Haven't you had enough, Wilhelm?" she asked, her hands pressed firmly to her hips as she turned to look at him.
"Enough of what? Enough of your friends insulting my country?"
"They weren't insulting it," she said. "They just find it difficult to forget the war, that's all. Particularly those who lost loved ones in the trenches."
"And yet they don't mind coming into my home, eating my food, and drinking my wine."
Papa waited until Maman had returned to the kitchen before summoning Pierrot and placing an arm around his waist. "Someday we will take back what's ours," he said, looking the boy directly in the eye. "And when we do, remember whose side you're on. You may have been born in France and you may live in Paris, but you're German through and through, just like me. Don't forget that, Pierrot."
* * *
Sometimes Papa woke in the middle of the night, his screams echoing through the dark and empty hallways of their apartment, and Pierrot's dog, D'Artagnan, would leap in fright from his basket, jump onto his bed, and scramble under the sheets next to his master, trembling. The boy would pull the blanket up to his chin, listening through the thin walls as Maman tried to calm Papa down, whispering in a low voice that he was fine, that he was at home with his family, that it had been nothing but a bad dream.
"But it wasn't a dream," he heard his father say once, his voice trembling with distress. "It was worse than that. It was a memory."
Occasionally Pierrot would wake in need of a quick trip to the bathroom and find his father seated at the kitchen table, his head slumped on the wooden surface, muttering to himself as an empty bottle lay on its side next to him. Whenever this happened, the boy would run downstairs in his bare feet and throw the bottle in the courtyard trash container so his mother wouldn't discover it the next morning. And usually, when he came back upstairs, Papa had roused himself and somehow found his way back to bed.
Neither father nor son ever talked about any of these things the next day.
Once, however, as Pierrot went outside on one of these late-night missions, he slipped on the wet staircase and tumbled to the floor — not badly enough to hurt himself but enough to smash the bottle he was holding. As he stood up a piece of glass embedded itself in the underside of his left foot. Grimacing, he pulled it out, but as it emerged, a thick stream of blood began to seep quickly through the torn skin; when he hobbled back into the apartment in search of a bandage, Papa woke and saw what he had been responsible for. After disinfecting the wound and ensuring that it was tightly wrapped, he sat the boy down and apologized for his drinking. Wiping away tears, he told Pierrot how much he loved him and promised that he would never do anything to put him in harm's way again.
"I love you, too, Papa," said Pierrot. "But I love you most when you're carrying me on your shoulders and pretending to be a horse. I don't like it when you sit in the armchair and won't talk to me or Maman."
"I don't like those moments, either," said Papa quietly. "But sometimes it's as if a dark cloud has settled over me and I can't get it to move on. That's why I drink. It helps me forget."
"The war. The things I saw." He closed his eyes as he whispered, "The things I did."
Pierrot swallowed, almost afraid of asking the question. "What did you do?"
Papa offered him a sad smile. "Whatever I did, I did for my country," he said. "You can understand that, can't you?"
"Yes, Papa," said Pierrot, who wasn't sure what his father meant but thought it sounded valiant nevertheless. "I'd be a soldier, too, if it would make you proud of me."
Papa looked at his son and placed a hand on his shoulders. "Just make sure you pick the right side," he said.
For several weeks after this he stopped drinking. And then, just as abruptly as he had given up, that dark cloud he had spoken of returned, and he started again.
* * *
Papa worked as a waiter in a local restaurant, disappearing every morning around ten o'clock and returning at three before leaving again at six for the dinner service. On one occasion he came home in a bad mood and said that someone named Papa Joffre had been in the restaurant for lunch, seated at one of his tables; he had refused to serve him until his employer, Monsieur Abrahams, said that if he didn't, he could go home and never return.
"Who's Papa Joffre?" asked Pierrot, having never heard the name before.
"He was a great general in the war," said Maman, lifting a pile of clothes out of a basket and placing it next to her ironing board. "A hero to our people."
"To your people," said Papa.
"Remember that you married a Frenchwoman," said Maman, turning to him angrily.
"Because I loved her," replied Papa. "Pierrot, did I ever tell you about when I saw your mother for the first time? It was a couple of years after the Great War ended. I had arranged to meet my sister, Beatrix, during her lunch break, and when I got to the department store where she worked, she was talking to one of the new assistants, a shy creature who had only started that week. I took one look at her and knew immediately that this was the girl I was going to marry."
Pierrot smiled; he loved it when his father told stories like this.
"I opened my mouth to speak but couldn't find any words. It was as if my brain had just gone to sleep. And so I just stood there, staring, saying nothing."
"I thought there was something wrong with him," said Maman, smiling, too, at the memory.
"Beatrix had to shake me by the shoulders," said Papa, laughing at his own foolishness.
"If it wasn't for her, I would never have agreed to go out with you," added Maman. "She told me that I should take a chance. That you were not as odd as you seemed."
"Why don't we ever see Aunt Beatrix?" asked Pierrot, for he had heard her name on a few occasions over the years but had never met her. She never came to visit and never wrote any letters.
"Because we don't," said Papa, the smile leaving his face now as his expression changed.
"But why not?"
"Leave it, Pierrot," he said.
"Yes, leave it, Pierrot," repeated Maman, her face clouding over now, too. "Because that's what we do in this house. We push away the people we love, we don't talk about things that matter, and we don't allow anyone to help us."
And just like that, a happy conversation was spoiled.
"He eats like a pig," said Papa a few minutes later, crouching down and looking Pierrot in the eye, curling his fingers into claws. "Papa Joffre, I mean. Like a rat chewing his way along a cob of corn."
* * *
Week after week, Papa complained about how low his wages were, how Monsieur and Madame Abrahams spoke down to him, and how the Parisians had grown increasingly stingy with their tips. "This is why we never have any money," he grumbled. "They're all so tight-fisted. Especially the Jews — they're the worst. And they come in all the time because they say that Madame Abrahams makes the best gefilte fish and latkes in all of Western Europe."
"Anshel is Jewish," said Pierrot quietly. He had often seen his friend leaving for temple with his mother.
"Anshel is one of the good ones," muttered Papa. "They say every barrel of good apples contains a single rotten one. Well, that works the other way around, too."
"We never have any money," said Maman, interrupting him, "because you spend most of what you earn on wine. And you shouldn't speak about our neighbors like that. Remember how —"
"You think I bought this?" he asked, picking up a bottle and turning it around to show her the label — the same house wine that the restaurant used. "Your mother can be very naive sometimes," he added in German to Pierrot.
Despite everything, Pierrot loved spending time with his father. Once a month Papa would take him to the Tuileries Garden, where he would name the different trees and plants that lined the walkways, explaining how each one changed as season followed season. His own parents, he told him, had been avid horticulturalists and had loved anything to do with the land. "But they lost it all, of course," he added. "Their farm was taken from them. All their hard work destroyed. They never recovered."
On the way home he bought ice creams from a street seller, and when Pierrot's fell to the ground, his father gave him his instead.
These were the things that he tried to remember whenever there was trouble at home. Only a few weeks later an argument broke out in their front parlor when some neighbors — not the same as those who had objected to Pierrot's singing "La Marseillaise" in German — began discussing politics. Voices were raised, old grievances aired, and when they left, his parents got into a terrible fight.
"If you'd only stop drinking," Maman cried. "Alcohol makes you say the most terrible things. Can't you see how much you upset people?"
"I drink to forget," shouted Papa. "You haven't seen the things I've seen. You don't have these images going around in your head day and night."
"But it's so long ago," she said, stepping closer to him and reaching across to take his arm. "Please, Wilhelm, I know how much it hurts you, but perhaps it's because you refuse to talk about it sensibly. Maybe if you shared your pain with me —"
Émilie never got to finish that sentence, for at that moment Wilhelm did a very bad thing, a thing he had done for the first time a few months earlier, swearing that he would never do again, although he had broken this promise several times since then. As upset as she was, Pierrot's mother always found some way to excuse his behavior, particularly when she found her son crying in his bedroom at the frightening scenes he had witnessed.
"You mustn't blame him," she said.
"But he hurts you," said Pierrot, looking up with tears in his eyes. On the bed, D'Artagnan glanced from one to the other before jumping down and nuzzling his nose into his master's side. The little dog always knew when Pierrot was upset.
"He's ill," replied Émilie, holding a hand to her face. "And when someone we love is ill, it's our job to help them get better. If they will let us. But if they won't ..." She took a deep breath before speaking again. "Pierrot," she said, "how would you feel if we were to move away?"
"All of us?"
She shook her head. "No," she said. "Just you and me."
"And what about Papa?"
Maman sighed, and Pierrot could see the tears forming in her eyes. "All I know," she said, "is that things can't go on as they are."
* * *
The last time Pierrot saw his father was on a warm May evening, shortly after his fourth birthday, when once again the kitchen was littered with empty bottles and Papa began shouting and banging the sides of his head with his hands, complaining that they were in there, they were all in there, they were coming to get their revenge on him — phrases that made no sense to Pierrot. Papa reached over to the cupboard and threw handfuls of plates, bowls, and cups onto the floor, smashing them into hundreds of pieces. Maman held her arms out to him, pleading with him in an attempt to calm his temper, but he lashed out, punching her in the face and screaming words that were so terrible that Pierrot covered his ears and ran into his bedroom with D'Artagnan, and they hid in the wardrobe together. Pierrot was shaking and trying not to cry as the little dog, who hated any kind of disturbance, whimpered and curled himself into the boy's body.
Excerpted from The Boy at the Top of the Mountain by John Boyne. Copyright © 2015 John Boyne. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part 1: 1936,
Chapter 1: Three Red Spots on a Handkerchief,
Chapter 2: The Medal in the Cabinet,
Chapter 3: A Letter from a Friend and a Letter from a Stranger,
Chapter 4: Three Train Journeys,
Chapter 5: The House at the Top of the Mountain,
Chapter 6: A Little Less French, a Little More German,
Chapter 7: The Sound That Nightmares Make,
Part 2: 1937–1941,
Chapter 8: The Brown Paper Package,
Chapter 9: A Shoemaker, a Soldier, and a King,
Chapter 10: A Happy Christmas at the Berghof,
Part 3: 1942–1945,
Chapter 11: A Special Project,
Chapter 12: Eva's Party,
Chapter 13: The Darkness and the Light,
Chapter 14: A Boy Without a Home,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I had to read this book for school and this is easily one of my favorites I have ever read! There was never a single part where I wasn't on the edge of my seat! The ending to so heavy with emotion that I started to cry.
The author does it again. Read it and think!
AP World History Review: A description of my opinion of the book John Boyne does a wonderful job bringing the characters to life and really giving them meaning and he does it in such a short period of time reading wise. This book does such a good job in my opinion of forcing you to look at the other side because Pierrot didn't consider himself German, he was friends with a Jew, and he was more soft spoken and accepting. Then when he does change and you can begin to see this other side that is being brought out it is mainly because he wants to make this good paternal figure in his life proud. I also feel like this goes very well with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas. Both books kind of took on the challenge of lifting the mask of the main character and looking past where they came from and their families to get a real taste of who they are. This book does more to show why people moved towards the Nazi's and shows that point of view that isn't shown as often but still needs to be seen and acknowledged as it is a part of history.
Oh Boy......THE BOY AT THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN......really surprised me. 1936 - Pierrot is such a good kid....at age 7, he doesn't even know the meaning of prejudice or hatred with a French mom, German pop and Jewish best buddy, but life as he knows it is soon turned upside down when he is orphaned and finds himself traveling alone by train from Paris to Austria to live with an aunt he has never met. Meeting up with bullies....both young and old along the way....a naive Pierrot finds himself living in a dangerous new world he doesn't understand, but is soon influenced by evil that changes his life....and those of others....forever. Oh Pierrot.... Another short but powerful read by John Boyne with a befitting end.....and (for me) like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.....not just for young adults.
Boy am I glad that I stuck with this book. I almost did not finish it. The first third of the story was very dull. Then it started to get interesting. Turned out to be great. What a finish. Think I might read it again.