Summary and book reviews of Mischling by Affinity Konar

Mischling

by Affinity Konar

Mischling by Affinity Konar X
Mischling by Affinity Konar
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    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Sep 2016, 352 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2017, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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About this Book

Book Summary

"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.

PART ONE
CHAPTER ONE
World After World

We were made, once. My twin, Pearl, and me. Or, to be precise, Pearl was formed and I split from her. She embossed herself on the womb; I copied her signature. For eight months we were afloat in amniotic snowfall, two rosy mittens resting on the lining of our mother. I couldn't imagine anything grander than the womb we shared, but after the scaffolds of our brains were ivoried and our spleens were complete, Pearl wanted to see the world beyond us. And so, with newborn pluck, she spat herself out of our mother. Though premature, Pearl was a sophisticated prankster. I assured myself that it was just one of her tricks; she'd be back to laugh at me. But when Pearl failed to return, I lost my breath. Have you ever had to live with the best part of yourself adrift, stationed at some unknowable distance? If so, I am sure you are aware of the dangers of this condition. After my breath left me, my heart followed suit, and my brain ran with an ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
  1. Did you have any prior knowledge of the medical experiments conducted at Auschwitz ? What struck you most about the plight of those selected by Josef Mengele?
  2. Music played a significant role in the workings of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Prisoners were greeted by music at the ramps, and Stasha notes that suicide was frequent among the musicians that provided this accompaniment. The idea of music itself, with its ability to distract from suffering, or to transport one to a life bef ore imprisonment, could often be bittersweet. What place would you imagine music might have in the memories of a survivor?
  3. In many of Mengele's studies, one twin was subjected to experimentation, while the other remained untouched. As the spared twin, ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

It is hard to describe the alchemy that Konar performs to make this story so uplifting. In a way, she has created a kinder, gentler twin experiment of her own: how will Sasha and Pearl, "two parts," so alike, but so different in disposition, face and overcome their traumas, with rage or with kindness, vengeance, or forgiveness. The results of this experiment, unlike those conducted at Auschwitz, actually has value for humanity.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review (711 words).

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Media Reviews

Kirkus Reviews

When it comes to craft, Konar is clearly most interested in language, in metaphor and invention. Surely, there are readers who will appreciate this. Some, though, might find that the poetry puts too much distance between the reader and the reality of Auschwitz.Konar approaches a difficult subject with artistic ambition.

Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. Konar makes every sentence count; it's to her credit that the girls never come across as simply victims: they're flawed, memorable characters trying to stay alive. This is a brutally beautiful book.

Booklist

Starred Review. Fiction of rare poignancy--and astonishing hope.... An unforgettable sojourn of the spirit.

Library Journal

Starred Review. Titled after the pejorative Nazi German word for "mixed blood," though Zwillinge ("twins") might have been more apt, this searing work deepens our understanding of the Holocaust. It is highly recommended for that reason and for its stunningly original approach to a subject that would be too awful to read about if rendered in straightforward prose.

Author Blurb Anthony Doerr, author of New York Times bestseller All The Light We Cannot See
Mischling is a paradox. It's a beautiful novel about the most odious of crimes, it's a deeply-researched act of remembrance that somehow carries the lightness of a fairy tale, and it's a coming-of-age story about children who aren't allowed to come of age. If your soul can survive the journey, you'll be rewarded by one of the most harrowing, powerful, and imaginative books of the year.

Author Blurb David Wroblewski, author of the New York Times bestseller The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
Affinity Konar's Mischling is a tale of courage, courageously told - spare and beautiful, riveting and heartrending. Half of me wanted to linger over every page, the other half insisted I race ahead. It's a case of extraordinary storytelling from first page to transcendent last.

Author Blurb Lucette Lagnado, author of Children of the Flames and The Man in the Sharkskin Suit, winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
Konar has woven a masterful and poignant account of a pair of twin sisters who cannot be separated, even by the cruelest hand of fate. Her prose is mystical and delicately poetic, and she uses her manifold gifts to tell a deeply engaging story of fortitude and triumph. Bravo.

Author Blurb Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia
Affinity Konar is an astonishing and fearless writer, whose great gift to us is this book. With incantatory magic, she marches through the most nightmarish of landscapes, swinging her light.

Author Blurb Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen
Affinity Konar's Mischling is a piercing novel written with chin-up virtuosity. The prose is dazzling, and the story of these twins is moving and searing, and as powerful as the best mythic stories of the masters of old.

Author Blurb Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
Reading Mischling reminds me of looking at the images that came back from the Hubble space telescope: it's the night sky we think we know so well, and it's something we've never seen before. Affinity Konar's work is beautiful and essential.

Author Blurb Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
Mischling transported me to another world. It's a world that's part of our history, of course, and in a book that's so much about illusion, the true sleight of hand is that Affinity Konar allows us to see it anew. Brace yourself for a novel unlike any you've ever read.

Author Blurb Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
Mischling is a phenomenal book--harrowing and heartbreaking, intimate and epic--and Affinity Konar is a wise and compassionate writer with talent in spades. An achingly beautiful novel that will stay with me for a long, long time.

Author Blurb Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet
This novel, haunted by history and the unknowable power of family, is made bearable--indeed, necessary--by the spectacle of a literary imagination that observes no limits. Konar has produced a tremendously unsettled work of art.

Reader Reviews

Linda Zagon

"Two Hearts and Heartbreak"
Dr. Mengele's torturing physically and mentally twins,especially ones with Aryan features. The effects and affects of Auschwitz horrors and its characters are explored. The author's amazing use of vocabulary and description is evident. The premise ...   Read More

takingmytime

A Sad and Difficult Story
Twist on a WWII theme. This book spoke to the Holocaust in 1944 and the imprisoning of twins, triplets and children with unusual defects into the pet project of Josef Mengele - Mengeles Zoo at Auschwitz. It focuses on one set of twins, Pearl and ...   Read More

takingmytime

A Sad and Difficult Story
Twist on a WWII theme. This book spoke to the Holocaust in 1944 and the imprisoning of twins, triplets and children with unusual defects into the pet project of Josef Mengele - Mengeles Zoo at Auschwitz. It focuses on one set of twins, Pearl and ...   Read More

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Beyond the Book

Eva and Miriam Mozes

Eva and Miriam Mozes are pictured in Auschwitz. They are in the front, holding hands The twins in Mischling are loosely based on Romanian sisters Eva and Miriam Mozes, survivors of "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele's sadistic experiments at Auschwitz. Having studied twins in a legitimate capacity earlier in his career, Mengele took advantage of his position as a doctor at Auschwitz to perform unwarranted operations, mutilations, deadly blood transfusions, and other atrocities on the hundreds of sets of twins forced into the labor camp. Mengele reportedly injected his subjects' eyes with chemicals in an attempt to change their color (Stasha suffers this treatment in Mischling) and if one twin died the other was swiftly murdered so Mengele could perform a comparative post-mortem (or, as likely in many cases, because a single...

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