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Mischling Hardcover – September 6, 2016
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An Amazon Best Book of September 2016: It’s not easy picking up a book involving Auschwitz’s infamous “Angel of Death.” But once you pick up Affinity Konar’s Mischling, you will have a very difficult time putting it down. Inspired by the real-life experiences of twins Eva and Miriam Mozes, Konar’s beautifully written and powerful novel imagines what it was like being forced to take part in Josef Mengele’s horrific human experiments. This man, this monster, is not the star of the story though. 12-year-old siblings Pearl and Stasha are, and it is they who convey Mischling’s overarching message, something that is perhaps even more incomprehensible than man’s inhumanity to man: the capacity to forgive it. If Konar is concerned about whether or not these pages honor the memory of the brave souls who agitated against the cruel hand the world dealt them, she should rest easy. And hopefully those souls are too. --Erin Kodicek, The Amazon Book Review
"Konar describes [these horrors] beautifully, lyrically, in the language of a fable...readers who allow themselves to fall under the spell of Konar's exceptionally sensitive writing may well find the book unforgettable."--Ruth Franklin, New York Times Book Review
"Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited narrators piercingly real... doubts are steamrolled by Konar's ability to powerfully convey the experiences of her heroines: their resourcefulness and will to survive; their resilience and faith in a future even in the face of extermination; and Pearl's remarkable determination to embrace forgiveness.... What is most haunting about the novel is Konar's ability to depict the hell that was Auschwitz, while at the same time capturing the resilience of many prisoners, their ability to hang on to hope and kindness in the fact of the most awful suffering--to remain, in Elie Wiesel's words, humane 'in an inhumane universe.'"--Michiko Kakutani, New York Times
"Riveting."--Pamela Paul, New York Times Book Review
"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."―Anthony Doerr, author of New York Times bestseller All The Light We Cannot See
"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."―David Wroblewski, author of the New York Times bestseller The Story of Edgar Sawtelle
"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."―Lucette Lagnado, author of Children of the Flames and The Man in the Sharkskin Suit, winner of the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature
"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."
―Karen Russell, author of Swamplandia
"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."―Chigozie Obioma, author of The Fishermen
"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."―Rivka Galchen, author of Atmospheric Disturbances
"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."
―Cristina Henriquez, author of The Book of Unknown Americans
"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."
―Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
"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."
―Ben Marcus, author of The Flame Alphabet
"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."
―Publishers Weekly, starred review
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Books about this place and time can be tough to digest, and even the thickest skinned among us may have a tough time with Primo Levi. Komar eases readers into her story with deft language bordering on poetry and her focus on the twin relationship. The zoo, as the twins and other test subjects refer to their quarters, is a relatively benign place amidst the mass murders occurring elsewhere in the camp. Mengele takes care of his twins, we are reminded many times, and they are provided with adequate food and shelter, their lives scented by the omnipresent smoke from the cremo. Occasionally, twins are summoned to the lab, needles are injected, extractions performed, but since we are seeing the world through young eyes, we're never clear about the purpose, and it becomes increasingly apparent that there may be no purpose beyond the gratification of one particularly creative torturer.
Auschwitz was liberated by the Soviets, soldiers who were somewhat less than compassionate in this telling, months before the end of the war in Europe. The most interesting part of the book for me was the description of the challenges faced by former prisoners during that period. Although they had escaped the camp, their lives were still in peril; they were often cold and hungry and mostly dependent on the kindness of strangers.
The story concludes in 1945, with a few scenes set in the future to remind us that freedom alone does not confer happy endings. Although many camp survivors were able to live relatively normal lives, those who had been subjected to the experimentation of Uncle Doctor suffered physical abuse that often could not be repaired. Whether you've read dozens of books about this era or none, whether you're a twin or not, Mischling tells a story that will haunt you with its brilliant juxtaposition of horror and lyricism.
I noticed that a number of reviewers took issue with the whimsical, dreamlike tone used throughout the book, particularly during those portions narrated by Stasha. I think Konar's tonal choice makes sense, however, when one considers that people subjected to extreme emotional/physical distress often regress or dissociate as a coping mechanism. In conjunction with the fact that the girls are suffering from chronic stress, illness, and malnutrition, it doesn't surprise me that they might occasionally hallucinate. Pearl even mentions, very early on in the narrative, that Stasha has always been more prone to fantastical embellishments, thus implying that the audience should think of Stasha - and eventually Pearl herself - as an unreliable narrator. Understanding this makes what might seem like unlikely coincidences far more credible. If anything, knowing that at times what the twins relate to the audience is clearly false only increased my empathy for their respective plights. It made them seem more vulnerable, and more real.
The novel is beautifully written; the language is lyrical and highly original. It held my attention throughout and I found myself thinking about the characters after I had finished it.
There were some technical problems with the ebook, which I read on my new Paperwhite Kindle. Throughout the book, there were passages that were highlighted, with legends like "45 highlighters" or "32 highlighter." It was as if I were reading a book that belonged to someone else and it had that person's marginal notes in it. Also, when I got to the end of Chapter 12, it suddenly jumped to the Table of Contents at the end and it was very difficult to get back to where I had been reading. This was especially odd, because when I clicked on "Go to," the Table of Contents was disabled. All of this was surprising because the book is published by Hatchett, so one would expect that it had been properly formatted for the Kindle.
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