Category: Literary Fiction
Author: Affinity Konar
Format: Advanced Reading Copy (ARC), 342 pages
Publisher: Random House Canada
Pub Date: September 6, 2016
Summary from Publisher:
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.
- From Goodreads
Before reading the novel, Mischling, by author, Affinity Konar, I was fully aware of the gravity of its context—a story about the Holocaust—and so I approached my reading with the understanding that the context would be both, serious, graphic, and harrowing. I understood that I would be faced with the real effects of the most horrific event in history and intended to read with a special sensitivity to the subject of the book.
Still, as I read the novel, I was quite taken by how beautifully written it is. The narrative is gorgeously lyrical and tender, a difficult task any writer can not only try to accomplish on his or her own, but to do so in writing about such a serious and dark time in our history, is both not only a prodigious gift, but an especially intuitive one—and it’s genius.
Usually when I read a novel for review, I must pick it apart to find its “hidden” gems and at times this is not only a trying task, but can feel as pedantic as it does, labour-intensive. In some books, these “hidden” gems are more hidden than others and I do my best to be objective, fair, and often times, kind.
But, not so, in reading this book. It’s quite rare for me to be outwardly, enthusiastically, and equally passionate about a novel, both in its quality of story, plot, and writing. And believe me when I say, I rarely give a book a five-star rating.
And it’s been such a long time since I’ve read anything that has moved me in such a way to feel that again.
But, this novel, is wholly deserving of that praise.
Its story, which focuses on the relationship of two girls, a set of identical twins during their time in an extermination camp located in Auschwitz, readers are given in this context, a vision of what it may feel and be like to be a part of a twin relationship, which is not common knowledge for most people.
And Konar’s writing is such that the characters, Pearl and Stasha, are as vivid as they are sufferers of deep and horrific acts committed by the Nazi characters in the book. Not only are they vivid, their sensitivity, imagination, and determination to survive such horrors, are not only preciously told in their first-person narrative, but in their relation to one another as sisters and as twins.
Their desperation is indicative of the monstrosity faced by the many Jewish people during the Holocaust and this one story, while fictional in its semantic detail of plot, is a microcosm of the larger story of how a people were viciously picked, plucked out, demeaned, tortured, and the many vile ways they were slaughtered and killed—how this was done to 6 million Jews based on a deeply-rooted racial and cultural hatred—and how such a people suffered at the hands of this and died, while some were fortunate enough to have survived.
The plot tells this story of genocide with such precision, it not only speaks to the darkness of that time and evil of the people, the Nazi’s, who perpetrated it to its evil success, that the book is a hearkening light to such madness and injustice.
And yet, for such a gruesome and appalling context to write about, the story, its narrative, and its dialogue are intelligently written in a beautiful and almost poetic cadence.
I applaud the author, Affinity Konar, herself of Polish-Jewish descent, to bravely write and return to a place that is rooted in a dark and traumatic history of her people. And she did it with powerful genius.
I fell in with this book on all its levels of mastery, in plot, story, theme, narrative, and characters—especially its characters, how they, in their personal turmoil and/or evil, played a crucial part in the unravelling of the Mischling story.
Mischling is poetic as it is almost mystical. Its language is something a reader will slowly want to wade through, return to, ponder and reflect on, and simply read out loud. And while the language is as pervasive as it is beautiful, it does in no way lighten the gravity of the monstrosity of the Holocaust, but in its careful tenderness, seems to only emphasize the repugnance of the genocidal crimes committed at that time.
This book is an important testament to a time in history that must never be forgiven, nor forgotten, nor re-enacted again in any shape or form in the slightest way—but also a story that speaks of the unimaginable darkness a people can face at the hands of evil, when logic, reason, kindness, compassion, and empathy are turned to pure and complete madness.
May it never happen again. And may this book be a warning to the ease in which people can, in the root of hatred and evil, do and become humankind’s worst enemy. But, may it also be a testament to the humility, grace, and goodness that can still survive in the darkest of the dark.
It’s a beautiful book and I’m honoured to have been part of its readership. I highly suggest to my readers to: pick it up, buy it, borrow it, read it, read it again, and share it with all of your friends, and do all that without fear of being disappointed. If there is any book you must consider reading and adding to your shelf, it is this one.
I guarantee it.
Bravo, Affinity Konar. Bravo. She is an author who deserves high praise for writing a novel of great power, sensitivity, and in doing so, a new language through the unique eyes of Stasha and Pearl, characters and twins that readers will not soon forget.
I happily, easily, and proudly give this novel a full five star rating and look forward to not only adding Affinity Konar to my favourite author list, but to read whatever else she may publish in the future.
Now, go out there and pick up this book!
Characters: 5 stars
Plot: 5 stars
Language/Narrative: 5 stars
Dialogue: 5 stars
Pacing: 5 stars
Cover Design: 4 stars
A special thanks to Penguin Random House Canada for providing me with an advanced reader’s copy (ARC) of Mischling in exchange for an honest review.
About the Author:
Affinity Konar was raised in California. While writing Mischling, she worked as a tutor, proofreader, technical writer, and editor of children’s educational workbooks. She studied fiction at SFSU and Columbia. She is of Polish-Jewish descent, and currently lives in Los Angeles.
She dearly misses writing about Pearl and Stasha, and is grateful to any reader who might find the company of the twins.
- From Goodreads