“One of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year” (Anthony Doerr) about twin sisters fighting to survive the evils of World War II.
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.
Full disclosure: I finished this book over a week ago, but have been struggling to put into words what I experienced as a reader. I think I’m finally able to form complete sentences, but bear with me.
This book destroyed me. Absolutely. Destroyed. Me. I love reading fiction set during WWII, but after so many books it can start to feel like you’re reading the same story over and over. Mischling was different. The majority of the story takes place within the confines of Mengele’s Zoo and is told from the alternating viewpoints of Stasha and Pearl, twins who have been “privileged” with this placement. Stasha and Pearl are only around 12-years-old during this story, so not only are you hearing about the atrocities of the Holocaust, but you’re hearing about them through the eyes of children who are being horribly violated.
And yet this was such a beautiful story. The hope, resilience, and perseverance that these characters exude, despite the horrors they are experiencing and witnessing, really balanced the emotional tone of the story. It allowed me to keep my tears in check until the final chapter.
Ultimately this was an amazing book. Hard as hell to read, but so, so good. I would recommend it to anyone who appreciates well researched and well written WWII fiction, but also to anyone who loves to read a good story. I would easily put this one on par with Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See and Hannah’s The Nightingale. This is easily going to be one of my top reads of 2017.
About the author (from Goodreads):
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.