Mischling, Affinity Konar: Book Review

mischling affinity konar book reviewLee Boudreaux Books / Gabriela Michanie
Mischling Book Cover Mischling
Affinity Konar
Historical Fiction
Lee Boudreaux Books
September 6th 2016

Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.

Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.

It's 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood.

As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele's Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain.

That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks--a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin--travel through Poland's devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, Mischling defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.

Mischling, which is considered the debut novel of Affinity Konar, is a fictional account of the Holocaust like you’ve never seen before. With intriguing and engaging characters, enchanting yet haunting prose, and a storyline that is saturated with tragedy, horror, and death, this is one novel that will stay with you for a long time.

The two main characters of this novel are 12-year-old twin sisters Stasha and Pearl, both of whom are granted their own POV chapters throughout the story. Stasha’s voice, however, is what interested me the most since I can only best describe it as being Stasha’s voice—it’s that distinctive. Even though they are middle school aged girls, they both seem to possess a very adult way of viewing the world around them. These are definitely articulate and well-educated children, almost to the point of it being a bit ridiculous. However, it must be noted that their insightful observations are what help drive this novel forward.

All of the characters were crafted so artfully that it helped me get pulled deeper into this disturbing and bleak world of Auschwitz. Josef Mengele, the very real and very cruel man who experimented on, tortured, and murdered people in Auschwitz, acted as the novel’s central villain. Even when he’s not present in a scene, it’s hard not to feel the presence of this man that ripped Stasha and Pearl apart, both physically and mentally. A scene stealer for me was Dr. Miri, a Jewish female doctor who is forced to assist the infamous doctor and has a rather heartbreaking background story. There is also Feliks, who acts as Stasha’s partner-in-crime as they go forth on their quest to seek revenge on Mengele after they are liberated from the concentration camp.

The writing style that Konar adopts is utterly her own. Upon reading the first few pages, I was caught a bit off guard. I wondered if I could ever feel comfortable with this writing and even debated casting this novel aside that early into it. However, it did manage to reel me in eventually. Though her writing is somewhat disorienting, I quickly understood how she was using such unusual – yet beautiful – lyrical prose in order to create a harsh contrast between that and the unspeakably horrific subject matter. Konar’s writing isn’t for everyone, but even critics should admire some of the amazing things she does with her words. I am looking forward to reading more of Konar’s work in the future.

This is not a book that will lift your spirits. If anything, it will leave you wondering how it’s possible to have so much cruelty and evil in the world. This is a very heavy read, and I couldn’t help but think that Konar was not afraid to hold anything back. She exposes the Holocaust, in particular, Josef Mengele’s zoo stationed at Auschwitz, for all that it was. From the starvation to how families have been pulled apart to the both physical and mental torture that was inflicted on the victims – this is what evil looks like, and Konar is shining a flashlight right at it.

If you are ready to take on an emotionally taxing read with a unique prose style, pick up Mischling as soon as you can. The subject matter is difficult to get through, but I am so glad that I read this book. It opened my eyes to Josef Mengele’s zoo, something that I was not familiar with before this novel. The Holocaust is not something that should be forgotten, but something that we should remember for the sake of humankind never returning down such a dark, twisted path ever again.

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Alicia LeBoeuf
the authorAlicia LeBoeuf
Contributing Writer
I'm a college student pursuing an English major and Communication minor. I love everything book-related and I'm a passionate writer.