STARRED REVIEW
September 2016

The unbreakable bond of twins

By Affinity Konar
The depth of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during and after World War II seems bottomless, never to be fully probed. In Mischling, the culmination of years of research, author Affinity Konar weaves an intensely emotional tale of sisters caught in the horrific experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele.
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The depth of the atrocities committed against the Jewish people during and after World War II seems bottomless, never to be fully probed. In Mischling, the culmination of years of research, author Affinity Konar weaves an intensely emotional tale of sisters caught in the horrific experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele.

It’s 1944. Pearl and Stasha Zagorski, yellow-haired, brown-eyed, 12-year-old twins, are ushered through Auschwitz’s forbidding gates with their mother and grandfather. Because they are twins, the girls are singled out and sent to Mengele’s Zoo, along with other multiples and those with genetic mutations. There, Mengele both gives and takes life, affording his special subjects “privileges” such as extra food while injecting them and extracting from them at will. From caging his subjects and performing forced hysterectomies and abortions, to separating twins to study the effects of deprivation on the previously inseparable, the cruelty of the so-called “Angel of Death” is boundless. After months of sleeping next to Stasha in their narrow bunk, Pearl disappears from a concert Mengele arranges. 

Told in alternating chapters, Mischling portrays each girl’s unique expression of her experience. Stasha is the more impulsive and imaginative of the two, while Pearl’s thoughtful approach is more rational and measured. The brokenness they endure and their longing for one another are captured in painful detail, and Konar is unflinching in her portrayal of Mengele’s experiments. Glimmers of light in this darkness are faint but persistent, and the unspeakable horrors are tempered with some grace, namely in Dr. Miri, a Jewish doctor who tries to ease the children’s suffering.

Though Konar’s work is fiction, her research into historical figures and accounts helped form the key characters and episodes within it. Her writing bears a pointed edge, but also has a striking cadence that is often beautiful and poetic. Despite their deplorable circumstances, the twins preserve a 12-year-old’s mix of naïveté and developing awareness. The games, memories and fantasies they share propel Pearl and Stasha onward, to find each other and embrace the world again.

 

This article was originally published in the September 2016 issue of BookPage. Download the entire issue for the Kindle or Nook.

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Mischling

Mischling

By Affinity Konar
Little, Brown
ISBN 9780316308106

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