Published by Lee Boudreaux Books
Publication date: September 6th 2016
It’s hard to imagine there is a place more horrible than Auschwitz but Affinity Konar has found the horror within the horror by setting her novel Mischling in Josef Mengele’s lab. Pearl and Stasha, twelve-year-old identical twins, entwined heart and soul from the womb, arrive at Auschwitz in 1944 to find themselves faced with the man whose sole goal is to tear them apart. He admires their golden hair and then labels them mischlings, a term they don’t understand, but which is used by the Nazis to designate children believed to be of Aryan and Jewish blood. He is kind, inviting them to call him Uncle Doctor and promising them they will get to spend time with their mother if they only come with him now.
Pearl and Stasha join Mengele’s Zoo as it is called, due to his singular focus on the unusual in nature—twins, triplets, an albino girl, a family of dwarves. There they try, with the naiveté of children to outwit their tormentor. For Stasha, especially, there is a fierce desire to protect Pearl, who she believes is the better, but more delicate of the two of them. She believes that the injection he gives her makes her immortal and so submits to whatever else he chooses to do, if it keeps him away from Pearl. Then Pearl disappears. There is no indication from anyone that she is dead and Stasha believes her to be alive up until Mengele leaves the camp, ahead of the advancing Russians. Left alive but with little hope for her sister she and her friend Feliks escape from a group of prisoners being marched away from camp and head to Warsaw where they plan to find and kill Mengele. For Stasha, vengeance is all she has left.
Because you had no power over the fact that I was born, you took from me what I was born with—the person who was my love, the half that made me entire—and now I am lessened into this dull thing, a divided person who will live forever, wandering in search of some nothing, some nowhere, some no-feeling, to mend my pain.
From the beginning it is Konar’s prose that makes Mischling compelling. Within the first ten pages she makes the words fall in such a way that they are not only seen, they can be felt. When the twins arrive Auschwitz is a “grey, flame-licked wind that alerted us to our grief”. Konar uses this prose in service to the complexity of her characters. There are all the twins in the face of a man who wants only to destroy their bond, but there are also the moral ambiguities of the adults around them, especially the prisoners of war and the Jewish doctors. The stories of all these people encompasses so much pain that the embellishment of additional characters and events towards the end of the novel was too much. What began as an uncompromising portrayal of Auschwitz and the love of two sisters became fantastical, almost like the wishful thinking of Stasha and Pearl in the Zoo. It doesn’t negate their story, but it’s unnecessary. They are enough.