Mischling by Affinity Konar, review by Shirley Wells
Mischling is the profoundly disturbing yet spellbinding tale of twelve-year-old Jewish identical twins who are sent to the Auschwitz concentration camp in the fall of 1944. Having heard rumors that twins would receive better treatment, their mother pushes to have them noticed by Dr. Mengele who questions whether they are “mischling” or mixed race because of their white-blond hair and fair complexions. The tragic irony of their acceptance by Mengele and the special treatment they receive because of their Aryan appearance is that his “acceptance” insures that they will suffer unspeakable torture in the form of his medical experiments. This powerful debut novel is a fictionalized retelling of what actually occurred at Auschwitz.
Konar's unique storytelling imbues a graceful beauty into a horrific tale. For example, the narrative voice of the imaginative twin Stasha has a lovely quality of magical realism which only increases the horror of the events she is describing—one of which is the disappearance of her twin sister Pearl, a gifted dancer. Never having been separated, the girls had found solace and comfort—even in the concentration camp—in the private language and games they had shared since birth. But now even that has been ripped from them. Mengele often subjected one twin to certain procedures in order to test how the other would react. In addition, “Mengele wanted to know what might happen when identical twins, the ones most bonded to each other, experienced separation.” As the fate of both the girls and their friends grows increasingly tragic, the Russian army liberates Auschwitz. But the concentration camp prisoners don't trust them and take to the war-torn roads, countryside, and cities in their attempts to return home or to reunite with any remaining family. Stasha and her friend Feliks even share the unrealistic dream of exacting revenge on Mengele. It is a sad footnote in history that Josef Mengele—the Angel of Death, as he was known—was never brought to trial and made to account for the murderous cruelties he imposed on over 3000 twins at Auschwitz.
In spite of their physical separation, the twins Stasha and Pearl possess an unbreakable emotional and spiritual bond. The courage and love they display, both together and separately, makes Mischling an uplifting novel in spite of its tragedy. Feliks even accuses Stasha of being overly optimistic: “I think you like to see the good in people because there's been so much bad that you have to believe in good.” And it is just this paradoxical quality that makes the novel so rewarding in spite of the nightmarish brutality of Josef Mengele's torture and savagery. Stasha's father had always told her that “beauty redeems the world”--a belief she held on to even when that beauty was obscured so terribly by man's inhumanity to man.
Mischling is an important addition to Holocaust literature; the Nazi genetic experiments conducted on twins has not often been portrayed in fiction. It is also of vital importance in our world today to remember and bear witness to the pain and unspeakable horror that extremist forces can impose when left unchecked.