Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Book Recommendation: "The Extra" by Kathryn Lasky

I have so many book reviews to catch up on, and no excuse for not posting them until now. (I already wrote them and posted them to goodreads, but I've been too lazy to touch this blog.)

Edit 1/19/2015: Something I didn't realize at the time I wrote the review was that the term "Gypsy" is considered a slur. Since I wasn't sure whether the terms "Roma" and "Romani" could also be used for Sinti, I opted to use the word "Gypsy" when I was referring to the Roma and Sinti collectively. (I believe the book used the term "Gypsy." Then again, I don't believe Kathryn Lasky is from either of these cultures, so it's possible that she got some stuff wrong.)

After several weeks of being on social justice tumblrs, I've decided that I should rewrite this review in a less offensive manner. (From what I can gather, "Roma" can refer either to the specific Roma ethnicity, or to all of the different Romani groups (Roma, Sinti, Kale, etc) as a whole.) My edits are in bold.

I apologize for my ignorance on the matter.

This book tackles an under-explored perspective on the Holocaust--the lives of Romani who were forced to serve as extras in a movie produced by the Nazi regime. Despite all the hours I spent learning about Holocaust in Jewish school, all they ever taught us about Romani was that they also faced discrimination and were sent to concentration camps, so I'm glad I finally got to learn more about this particular group. (Apparently, "Roma" isn't a catch-all term for Gypsy--it only refers to a specific ethnicity/group of Gypsies (the stereotypical nomadic ones)(see above) The protagonist of the story is Sinti (craftspeople, middle class, more "assimilated"). I don't think I've ever heard of Sinti before, which probably indicates a serious flaw in my education.)

This book has a very strong "illusion vs reality" theme, as well as some themes that are sadly still relevant to modern times, like cultural appropriation and whitewashing. (The movie was supposed to be set in Spain, so dark-skinned Romani were an ideal choice for extras, although the main characters were played by pale-skinned Aryans.)

One element that stood out for me was the prose. It's very direct and minimalistic, which might not appeal to every reader, but I thought that it worked well. There were parts that felt almost like stream-of-consciousness, without being pretentious or overly trippy.

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