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Mischling
     

Mischling

4.6 5
by Affinity Konar
 

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A New York Times Notable Book
An Amazon Best Book of the Year
A Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
An Indie Next Pick
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Flavorwire Best Book of the Year
An Elle Best Book of the Year

"One of the most harrowing

Overview

A New York Times Notable Book
An Amazon Best Book of the Year
A Barnes & Noble Discover Pick
An Indie Next Pick
A Publishers Weekly Best Book of the Year
A Flavorwire Best Book of the Year
An Elle Best Book of the Year

"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.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani
…Ms. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the harrowing story of their efforts to survive…What is most haunting about the novel is Ms. 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 face of the most awful suffering—to remain, in [Elie] Wiesel's words, humane "in an inhumane universe."
The New York Times Book Review - Ruth Franklin
There is a reason Mengele's experiments are rarely discussed. Even in the context of the Holocaust, they are almost unspeakably horrible. Konar's novel takes an unorthodox, though not unprecedented, approach to these horrors: She describes them beautifully, lyrically, in the language of a fable. Mischling is not for everyone, not least because it is excruciating to read about such pain. I do not remember the last time I shed so many tears over a work of fiction. And it will surely offend those who still chafe at the idea of fictionalizing the Holocaust. But readers who allow themselves to fall under the spell of Konar's exceptionally sensitive writing may well find the book unforgettable.
Publishers Weekly
★ 06/06/2016
Without sentimentality, Konar’s gripping novel explores the world of the children who were the subjects of Nazi doctor Josef Mengele’s horrifying experiments at Auschwitz. Stasha and Pearl, 12-year-old Jewish sisters from Poland, are placed in Mengele’s “zoo” because they are twins, rather than being sent to the gas chambers. Stasha is impulsive, a little melancholy, and given to storytelling; Pearl is more restrained and observant, and less dependent on her sister. Mengele selects one of the sisters to torture and uses the other as a control in his experiment. The two narrate alternating chapters of their story, which begins when they are sent to the camp in the autumn of 1944. The latter part takes the novel into the chaotic months after Auschwitz was abandoned, when some of the inmates were set on a death march and others were liberated by the Allies. Konar neatly avoids making Mengele the center of attention, instead focusing on the girls and the people they meet in the zoo, including brash, mouthy Bruna; conflicted Dr. Miri, a Jewish physician conscripted to work for “Uncle Doctor” Mengele; and messenger boy Peter, whose affection for Pearl threatens the closeness of the twins. 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 novel. Agent: Jim Rutman, Sterling Lord Literistic. (Sept.)
Library Journal
★ 08/01/2016
Horrific beyond words is not too strong a characterization of this first novel, featuring the young Polish Jewish twins Stasha and Pearl Zamorski, who have been interned in the Auschwitz death camp with other members of their family. The girls catch the eye of Dr. Josef Mengele, who is fascinated with twins. "Uncle," as inmates call Mengele, isolates them with other twins in what they call the "Zoo," where he often treats them kindly, bestowing special favors on them to keep them alive. But he also subjects them to gruesome, nonscientific experiments that result in great suffering and, usually, death. While bonding in the Zoo with other "experiments," as these young victims call themselves, Pearl and Stasha rely on their closeness to survive the horrors. Eventually, Pearl disappears, and Stasha's determination to find out what happened to her propels the narrative. VERDICT 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. [See Prepub Alert, 3/28/16.]—Edward B. Cone, New York
Kirkus Reviews
2016-06-19
A literary exploration of Nazi experiments.Stasha and Pearl are 12 years old when they arrive at Auschwitz. The fact that they are 12 is insignificant to their captors; the fact that they are twins is not. Exceptional by virtue of their birth, they will join other children like themselves as special subjects for Josef Mengele. It's under his regime that Stasha and Pearl, two halves of the same whole, are transformed into distinct individuals. And it's at a death-camp concert—just one manifestation of Mengele's perversity—that Pearl disappears. After her liberation, Stasha struggles through the ruins of the world she once knew, searching for her missing half and hungering for revenge against the monster who ruled Auschwitz. It's not easy to critique a Holocaust novel. Even if the author didn't thank particular survivors in her acknowledgements—and she does—it's difficult to escape the sense that any complaint about form or technique might be read as disparagement of the project of remembering. Certainly, Konar's fiction draws the reader's attention to a gruesome paradox: the veneer of science only makes Nazi atrocities more horrifying, just as the meticulous medical attention and occasional kindness Mengele offered his subjects only damn him as a monster. Konar's fiction also draws the reader's attention to Konar's style as a writer. The synopsis at the beginning of this review is accurate, but it's deceptive if it suggests that plot—or forward momentum of any kind—is an important element of the book. 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.
From the Publisher
"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

"Fiction of rare poignancy--and astonishing hope.... An unforgettable sojourn of the spirit."
Booklist, starred review

"Konar's Mischling is a luminous tale of hope in the shadow of the Holocaust."
Vanity Fair

"Astonishing. Complicated. Heartbreaking. Powerful. Devastating. Sublime.... A book for once deserving of those all too overwrought, overused descriptors."
Elle

"A truly original story of the horrors of the Holocaust and life after."
Marie Claire

"Unflinching.... Konar constructs a sinuous plot from the chaos of the postwar landscape... It is certainly miraculous, and moving, that any of these victims survived, and Konar is wise to keep her focus not on the incomprehensibly sadistic Mengele in his shiny black boots, but on the children themselves."
Washington Post

"Though Konar's work is fiction, her research into historical figures and accounts helped form the key characters and episodes within it. Her writing bears a pointed edge, but also has a striking cadence that is often beautiful and poetic."
Bookpage

"A spare, stunning debut that's a must-read."
Barnes & Noble

"Drawn from the abundant documentation of the Holocaust, Konar's unbearable but transcendent debut novel imagines the ordeal of Jewish twins at the hands of the jovial sociopath they are asked to call "Uncle Doctor." In its blend of realism and fantasy, cruelty and beauty, the book itself affirms the value of mischling.... Konar's novel is filled with exquisitely crafted phrases...nevertheless, the aesthetic achievement of Mischling cannot redeem the world after Auschwitz. It merely illuminates it, woefully, brilliantly."
Dallas Morning News

"Konar's evocative storytelling, fierce characters and haunting prose make Mischling equally hard to put down."
USA Today

"A triumphant first novel.... In what could be the bleakest of worlds, Mischling gives us moments of transcendent hope and even beauty."
O, the Oprah Magazine

"Full of rich historical detail, Mischling is a captivating story of survival in the worst circumstances imaginable.... Despite these atrocities, there is a mystical wonder present in the story--the world might be in blames, but the universe provides... It is hard to describe the alchemy that Konar performs to make this story so uplifting.
Bookbrowse

"The sheer beauty of the language in Mischling is one of the things that makes the book unlike most other Holocaust novels."
Kirkus

"There isn't a page in this novel that isn't also shining with hope and love, and that's what makes this beautiful book worth the read."
Book Riot

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780316308106
Publisher:
Little, Brown and Company
Publication date:
09/06/2016
Pages:
352
Sales rank:
23,011
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 8.80(h) x 1.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Mischling

A Novel


By Affinity Konar

Little, Brown and Company

Copyright © 2016 Affinity Konar
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-316-46417-8


CHAPTER 1

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 unthinkable fever. In my fetal pinkness, I faced this truth: without her, I would become a split and unworthy thing, a human incapable of love.

That is why I followed my sister's lead and allowed the doctor's hands to tear me out and smack me and hold me to the light. Let us note that I never cried during the ruptures of this unwanted transition. Not even when our parents ignored my wish to be named Pearl too.

I became Stasha instead. And with the chore of birth complete, we entered the world of family and piano and book, of days that baffled by in beauty. We were so alike — we were always dropping marbles from the window onto the paving stones and watching them descend the hill with our binoculars, just to see how far their little lives would take them.

That world, teeming with awe, ended too. Most worlds do.

But I must tell you: There was another world we knew. Some say it was the world that made us the most. I want to say that they are wrong, but for now, let me tell you that our entry into this world began in our twelfth year of life, when we were huddled side by side in the back of a cattle car.

During that journey of four days and four nights, we cheated our way into survival under Mama's and Zayde's instruction. For sustenance, we passed an onion back and forth and licked its yellow hide. For entertainment, we played the game Zayde made for us, a game called the Classification of Living Things. In this form of charades, you had to portray a living thing, and the players had to name the species, the genus, the family, and so on, all the way to the encompassing brilliance of a kingdom.

The four of us passed through so many living things in the cattle car; we postured from bear to snail and back — it was important, Zayde emphasized in his thirst-cracked voice, that we organize the universe to the best of our too-human ability — and when the cattle car finally came to a stop I stopped my charade too. The way I remember it, I was in the middle of trying to convince Mama that I was an amoeba. It's possible that I was portraying some other living thing and that I am remembering it as an amoeba now only because I felt so small in that moment, so translucent and fragile. I cannot be sure.

Just as I was about to admit defeat, the door to the cattle car rolled open.

And the incoming light was so startling that we dropped our onion on the floor, and it rolled down the ramp, a smelly and half-eaten moon that landed at the feet of a guard. I imagine that his face was full of disgust, but I couldn't see it — he held a kerchief over his nostrils while issuing a series of sneezes, and he stopped sneezing only to hover his boot above our onion and cast an eclipsing shadow over the tiny globe. We watched the onion weep as he crushed it, its tears a bitter pulp. He then resumed his approach, and we scrambled to hide in the shelter of Zayde's voluminous coat. Though we had outgrown Zayde as a hiding place long ago, fear made us smaller, and we contorted within the coat folds beside his dwindled body, leaving our grandfather a lumpy, many-legged figure. In this shelter, we blinked. Then we heard a sound — a stomp, a shuffle — the guard's boots were immediately before us.

"What kind of insect are you?" he asked Zayde, rapping each of the girlish legs that emerged beneath the coat with a walking stick. Our knees smarted. Then the guard struck Zayde's legs too. "Six legs? You are a spider?"

It was clear that the guard had no real understanding of living things at all. Already, he'd made two errors. But Zayde didn't bother to point out that spiders aren't insects and that, in fact, they are possessors of eight legs. Traditionally, Zayde enjoyed issuing playful, singsong corrections, as he liked to see all the facts put to rights. In that place, though — it was too dangerous to express any intimate knowledge of creatures that crawled or were considered lowly, lest you be accused of bearing too much in common with them. We should have known better than to make an insect of our grandfather.

"I asked you a question," the guard insisted while issuing another rap to our legs with his stick. "What kind?"

In German, Zayde gave him facts: His name was Tadeusz Zamorski. He was sixty-five years old. He was a Polish Jew. He ended there, as if all were told.

And we wanted to continue for him, we wanted to give all the details: Zayde was a former professor of biology. He'd taught the subject at universities for decades but was an expert in many things. If you wanted to know about the insides of a poem, he would be the one to ask. If you wanted to know how to walk on your hands or find a star, he'd show you. With him, we once saw a rainbow that ran only red, saw it straddle a mountain and a sea, and he toasted the memory of it often. To unbearable beauty! he'd cry, eyes abrim. He was so fond of toasts that he made them indiscriminately, for nearly any occasion. To a morning swim! To the lindens at the gate! And in recent years, there was this, his most common toast: To the day my son returns, alive and unchanged!

But as much as we would have liked to, we said nothing of these things to the guard — the details caught in our throats, and our eyes were tearful because of the death of the nearby onion. The tears were the onion's fault, we told ourselves, nothing more, and we wiped the drops away so that we could see what was happening through the holes in Zayde's coat.

Encircled in the portholes of these flaws were five figures: three little boys, their mother, and a white-coated man who stood with a pen cocked over a little book. The boys intrigued us — we'd never seen triplets before. In Lodz, there had been another set of girl twins, but a trio was the stuff of books. Though we were impressed by their number, we had to admit that we trumped them in terms of identically. All three had the same dark curls and eyes, the same spindly bodies, but they wore different expressions — one squinted at the sun, while the other two frowned, and their faces fell into similarity only when the white-coated man distributed candy into each of their palms.

The triplets' mother was different than all the other mothers of the cattle car — her distress was neatly tucked away, and she stood as still as a stopped clock. One of her hands drifted over her sons' heads in some perpetual hesitation, as if she felt that she no longer had the right to touch them. The white-coated man did not share this attitude.

He was an intimidating figure, all shiny black shoes and dark hair of equal polish, his sleeves so expansive that when he lifted an arm, the fabric below billowed and winged and claimed a disproportionate measure of sky. He was movie-star handsome and prone to dramatics; kindly expressions swelled across his face with obviousness, as if he was eager to let everyone near know the extremity of his good intentions.

Words passed between the mother and the white-coated man. They seemed like agreeable words, though the man did most of the talking. We wished we could hear the conversation, but it was enough, I suppose, to see what happened next: the mother passed her hands over the dark clouds of the triplets' hair, and then she turned her back, leaving the boys with the white-coated man.

He was a doctor, she said as she walked away, a falter in her step. They would be safe, she assured them, and she did not look back.

Our mother, hearing this, gave a little squeak and a gasp before reaching over to tug at the guard's arm. Her boldness was a shock. We were used to a trembling mother, one who always shook while making requests of the butcher and hid from the cleaning woman. Always, it was as if pudding ran through her veins, making her constantly aquiver and defeatable, especially since Papa's disappearance. In the cattle car, she'd steadied herself only by drawing a poppy on the wooden wall. Pistil, petal, stamen — she drew with a strange focus, and when she stopped drawing, she went to pieces. But on the ramp she discovered a new solidity — she stood stronger than the starved and weary should ever stand. Was the music responsible for this alteration? Mama always loved music, and this place was teeming with bright notes; they found us in the cattle car and drew us out with a distrustful cheer. Over time, we'd learn the depths of this trick and know to beware of the celebratory tune, as it held only suffering at its core. The orchestra had been entrusted with the deception of all that entered. They were compelled, these musicians, to use their talents to ensnare the unwitting, to convince them that where they had arrived was a place not entirely without an appreciation for the humane and the beautiful. Music — it uplifted the arriving crowds, it flowed beside them as they walked through the gates. Was this why Mama was able to be bold? I would never know. But I admired her courage as she spoke.

"It is good here — to be a double?" she asked the guard.

He gave her a nod and turned to the doctor, who was squatting in the dust so that he could address the boys at eye level. The group appeared to be having the warmest of chats.

"Zwillinge!" the guard called to him. "Twins!"

The doctor left the triplets to a female attendant and strode over to us, his shiny boots disrupting the dust. He was courtly with our mother, taking her hand as he addressed her.

"You have special children?" His eyes were friendly, from what we could see.

Mama shifted from foot to foot, suddenly diminished. She tried to withdraw her hand from his grasp but he held it tight, and then he began to stroke her palm with his gloved fingertips, as if it were some wounded, but easily soothed, thing.

"Only twins, not triplets," she apologized. "I hope they are enough."

The doctor's laugh was loud and showy and it echoed within the caverns of Zayde's coat. We were relieved when it subsided so that we could listen to Mama rattling off our gifts.

"They speak some German. Their father taught them. They'll turn thirteen in December. Healthy readers, the both of them. Pearl loves music — she is quick, practical, studies dance. Stasha, my Stasha" — here Mama paused, as if unsure how to categorize me, and then declared — "she has an imagination."

The doctor received this information with interest, and requested that we join him on the ramp.

We hesitated. It was better within the suffocations of the coat. Outside, there was a gray, flame-licked wind that alerted us to our grief, and a scorched scent that underpinned it; there were guns casting shadows and dogs barking and drooling and growling as only dogs bred for cruelty can. But before we had a chance to withdraw farther, the doctor pulled aside the curtains of the coat. In the sunlight, we blinked. One of us snarled. It might have been Pearl. It was probably me.

How could it be, the doctor marveled, that these perfect features could be wasted on such dour expressions? He drew us out, made us turn for him, and had us stand back to back so he could appreciate the exactitudes of us.

"Smile!" he instructed.

Why did we obey this particular order? For our mother's sake, I suppose. For her, we grinned, even as she clung to Zayde's arm, her face lit with panic, two drops of sweat tripping down her forehead. Ever since we'd entered the cattle car, I'd avoided looking at our mother. I looked at the poppy she drew instead; I focused on the fragile bloom of its face. But something about her false expression made me acknowledge what Mama had become: a pretty but sleepless semi-widow, faded in her personhood. Once the primmest of women, she was undone; dust streaked her cheek, her lace collar lay limp. Dull gems of blood secured themselves to the corners of her lips where she'd gnawed on them in worry.

"They are mischlinge?" he asked. "That yellow hair!" Mama pulled at her dark curls, as if ashamed of their beauty, and shook her head.

"My husband — he was fair" was all she could say. It was the only answer she had when asked about the coloring that made certain onlookers insist that our blood was mixed. As we'd grown, that word mischling — we heard it more and more, and its use in our presence had inspired Zayde to give us the Classification of Living Things. Never mind this Nuremberg abomination, he'd say. He'd tell us to ignore this talk of mixed breeds, crossed genetics, of quarter-Jews and kindred, these absurd, hateful tests that tried to divide our people down to the last blood drop and marriage and place of worship. When you hear that word, he'd say, dwell on the variation of all living things. Sustain yourself, in awe of this.

I knew then, standing before the white-coated doctor, that this advice would be difficult to take in the days to come, that we were in a place that did not answer to Zayde's games.

"Genes, they are funny things, yes?" the doctor was saying.

Mama, she didn't even try to engage him in this line of conversation.

"If they go with you" — and here she would not look at us — "when will we see them again?"

"On your Sabbath," the doctor promised. And then he turned to us and exclaimed over our details — he loved that we spoke German, he said, he loved that we were fair. He didn't love that our eyes were brown, but this, he remarked to the guard, could prove useful — he leaned in still closer to inspect us, extending a gloved hand to stroke my sister's hair.

"So you're Pearl?" His hand dipped through her curls too easily, as if it had done so for years.

"She's not Pearl," I said. I stepped forward to obscure my sister, but Mama pulled me away and told the doctor that, indeed, he had named the right girl.

"So they like to play tricks?" He laughed. "Tell me your secret — how do you know who is who?"

"Pearl doesn't fidget" was all Mama would say. I was grateful that she didn't elaborate on our identifiable differences. Pearl wore a blue pin in her hair. I wore red. Pearl spoke evenly. My speech was rushed, broken in spots, riddled with pause. Pearl's skin was as pale as a dumpling. I had summer flesh, as spotty as a horse. Pearl was all girl. I wanted to be all Pearl, but try as I might, I could only be myself.

The doctor stooped to me so that we could be face to face.

"Why would you lie?" he asked me. Again, there was his laugh, tinged with the familial.

If I was honest, I would have said that Pearl was — to my mind — the weaker of the two of us, and I thought I could protect her if I became her. Instead, I gave him a half-truth.

"I forget which one I am sometimes," I said lamely.

And this is where I don't remember. This is where I want to wander my mind back and under, past the smell, past the thump-bump of the boots and the suitcases, toward some semblance of a good-bye. Because we should have seen our loves go missing, we should have been able to watch them leave us, should have known the precise moment of our loss. If only we'd seen their faces turning from us, a flash of eye, a curve of cheek! A face turning — they would never give us that. Still, why couldn't we have had a view of their backs to carry with us, just their backs as they left, only that? Just a glimpse of shoulder, a flash of woolen coat? For the sight of Zayde's hand, hanging so heavy at his side — for Mama's braid, lifting in the wind!


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Mischling by Affinity Konar. Copyright © 2016 Affinity Konar. Excerpted by permission of Little, Brown and Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Meet the Author

Affinity Konar was raised in California. She has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.

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Mischling 4.6 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The horrors of life for twins in a concentration camp is vividly told by this author. The story will draw you into the agony of war and lives grasping to exist. The survivor stories will stay with you. A remarkable book and well worth reading.
Anonymous 8 months ago
Excellent work..Very moving. Disturbing in places. Would recommend. Reminded us all of how precious freedom is.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This review is from: Mischling (Hardcover) Oh, my! This is a horror story based on a true horror story!!! If you don't believe in true evil, just read this book about true evil. The book is based on the torture of twins during World War Two. The book includes evil procedures, evil experiments, evil deeds, a truly evil doctor, evil Nazis, and more. This novel is unforgettable and deserves an A++++++ for reminding us of what evil is!!!
SUEHAV More than 1 year ago
Good story based on fact but a bit too wordy for my tastes.
CherylM-M More than 1 year ago
Mischling is a fictional story based on, or rather Konar took inspiration from, the true experiences of Holocaust survivors. In particular on those of Eva Mozes Kor and Miriam Mozes, who were two of the 3000 children unfortunate enough to end up in the hands of the sadistic Dr. Mengele, also known as the Angel of Death. He was known to pick twins, triplets and any other people with specific abnormalities, because of his interest in genetics. He shared his findings with his mentor and the Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the predecessor of the Max Planck Institute. Only a small number of those children survived the experiments and the concentration camp. Many of those have suffered from numerous medical problems, were mutilated and have subsequently succumbed to the repercussions of the experiments inflicted upon them, including Miriam Mozes. Tragically the medical manipulations have possibly also been passed down to future generations. A few of the very small number of these particular survivors, who are still alive, and their offspring have willingly participated in research to try and understand the future consequences of those experiments and the possible genetic changes caused by the them and the trauma (epigenetics). The survivors have had to live with the nightmares of being part of Mengele’s sadistic human zoo. They have beaten the odds to survive and tell their tales only to be struck down by the same man at a later date, and the fact his actions may also be making their offspring ill, is truly diabolical. Luckily he isn’t here to pat himself on the back. Mengele managed to evade any form of punishment for his actions. He lived in comfort with his family for many years in Argentina, as did many war criminals from the Nazi regime. Mengele used the platform of the concentration camp to live out his cruel, sadistic tendencies all in the hypothetical name of science and research. Fact of the matter is he enjoyed and took pride in the pain he inflicted on others. His victims were nothing more than subjects in his mind. Aside from the horrific and inhumane experimentation, he also often abused, tortured and killed for pleasure, during his reign in Auschwitz. Pearl and Stasha are the main characters in Mischling. They are Jews with fair hair, hence why Mengele thinks they are Mischlinge (of mixed race). Each twin tells their own story, switching from chapter to chapter. Stasha believes that Mengele views her as special, which is why he makes her immune from death. This belief and her retreat into a world of imagination and denial, is how she deals with the trauma. Whereas Pearl is a realist and remains resourceful throughout her time with Mengele. Stasha seems oblivious to the abuse and experimentation both she, but especially her sister has to endure. The disappearance of Pearl is pivotal in the change in her behaviour. The fact she doesn’t want to accept the death of her twin is ultimately what saves Stasha from giving up. Denial is her coping mechanism. Stasha connects with a young boy, who has lost his own twin. The loss of the twin was very important to the survival of any the remaining twin in Auschwitz. When one died the other would soon be killed, so Mengele could compare and autopsy the corpses. Unfortunately my review doesn't fit in this little box read more here https://mmcheryl.wordpress.com/2016/09/19/mischling-by-affinity-konar/