Monday, January 27, 2014

The Extra by Kathryn Lasky

Stories about Holocaust victims never have happy endings. I'm not referring literally to the ending of this book - it may or may not have a happy outcome (read it to find out). Even if the characters survive and outlive their persecutors, their lives are filled with the death and disappearances of their family and friends. So many times, they never know what happened to these people. They were taken away on trains or just disappeared one night, never to return. It was a horrific time.

Lilo is a Gypsy, a largely misunderstood population. She does not belong to a roaming caravan. She lives in a house and goes to school. Her father repairs watches and her mother sews the finest lace. And she lives in Austria at the time of the Third Reich.

Gypsies were rounded up like so many others who did not meet Hitler's standards for human existence. They were imprisoned, starved,  tortured and killed. Lilo hopes her dad's work for prominent people will save her family, but one night they are taken from their home to a camp. Before long, Lilo and her mother are chosen to be extras in a movie made by Leni Riefenstahl, Hitler's favorite director. They do not experience the glamour of movie making; they are nothing more that film slaves who could be killed for doing something wrong as easily as anyone in a concentration camp.

Sometimes Lilo's life is so crushingly hopeless that she is afraid to feel anything for a clever boy named Django. He teaches her how to gather information that is helpful to their survival. How can she allow her heart to be open to anyone when she may never see her own family again?

Lilo's story is loosely based on a real girl who was a stand in for the real Leni Riefenstahl. It is a story of contrasts and juxtaposition as the actors dress in fine clothes and eat wonderful food while the extras dress in rags and are given little to eat. For Lilo, it is all fake and she can only hope that one day she can return to her real life.

For more info, check out the Evergreen library catalog and the author's site.


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