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Josef Mengele. Auschwitz. The Holocaust. Topics discussed in so many books, in so many ways, touching people’s lives in a million different directions since those years of evil were perpetrated on the planet. You would think at this point that there is no corner of the Nazi rug that hasn’t been upturned. Is there really anything left, any crumb of horror that hasn’t already been analyzed, wept over and investigated? The answer, according to MISCHLING, is yes. Affinity Konar, in her debut novel, has landed on a despicable aspect of the Nazi Angel of Death’s Mengele’s Zoo, a fascination with twins that created many a horrific scenario for siblings in the camp. Konar does the impossible, infusing the inherent evil of the situation with an extraordinary literary response that encompasses the deep and abiding kinship of the sisters, Pearl and Stasha, and the fierce determination, love and pride that keep their hope alive in the most desperate of times.

Fall 1944. Twelve-year-old twins Pearl and Stasha Zagorski enter the camp with their mother and grandfather. Their naturally rich imaginations, their private language and other such shared aspects of their twinship give them a refuge from the continuous emotional damage inflicted on them every single day. Once they come under the watchful eye of Mengele, they are taken in to the Zoo, where they are front and center to privileges as well as evils to which other prisoners are not exposed. The experience strips them of the characteristics of personality that they have shared since birth, and they watch each other alter their identities per the pain and guilt inflicted on them in equal measure.

"Emotionally rich and ultimately triumphant, the telling of this tale is a wonder in and of itself, even if you don’t take into account the girls’ amazing resilience.... MISCHLING is a tough read but highly recommended for its effective storytelling and emotional heart."

At a winter concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl suddenly disappears. Stasha must cling to the possibility that her sister is still alive. The Red Army arrives to liberate them, and, together with a young male companion, Stasha travels through Poland’s devastated world. Despite the hardships of hunger, danger, grief and the hard-won hope that Mengele will be brought to justice someday, the young survivors map out a new world order in which to live for themselves. Their future beckons, and they try to make the best of what is left to them.

The brutality and depravity that the girls witness are sometimes too much to take. Konar is not a soft touch; even with the most poetic language, she never glosses over the nightmares that are being brought upon those in the camps. Mengele is a fully rounded character, for better or for worse, as are the other people the girls encounter throughout MISCHLING. It is a hard book to read, I won’t lie to you, unless you have no moral core. This is a difficult topic, and Konar understands that. And even with that knowledge, she moves forward to tell a story that is infused with the kind of hope and striving for a better future that changes the way we look at the situation in the story. The hardest thing to imagine --- that these girls are being ripped apart in so many different ways after having spent their lives practically enjoined --- is the part of the story that is the most beautiful and affecting.

Emotionally rich and ultimately triumphant, the telling of this tale is a wonder in and of itself, even if you don’t take into account the girls’ amazing resilience. Konar hones in on the very essence of what it is to be a human being, someone who is able to walk away from the existential questions that can drive one towards a precipice, and instead walk towards the sun, filled with wonder and love despite being embattled by indescribable horrors. MISCHLING is yet another story of the amazing strength those in the most dire of circumstances brought about by war and the darkest evils perpetrated upon them conjure when necessary. The world goes on, and the horrors of the past will never be forgotten, but this story of these twin sisters will bring a new wrinkle to this historical timepiece and make Konar’s debut a cornerstone of literature about the haunting of the Holocaust and the millions of ways that those afflicted with its natural horribleness kept themselves from going insane and finding a life in a changed world when all was said and done.

MISCHLING is a tough read but highly recommended for its effective storytelling and emotional heart.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on September 9, 2016

by Affinity Konar

  • Publication Date: May 30, 2017
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Lee Boudreaux / Back Bay Books
  • ISBN-10: 0316308099
  • ISBN-13: 9780316308090