Friday, 9 September 2016
Author: Affinity Konar
Genre: Historical Fiction (WWII)
Publisher: Random House Canada
First Published: Sept 6, 2016
First Line: "We were made, once."
Book Description from GoodReads: 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.
My Rating: 3/5 stars
My Review: This book is about the bond between twin girls and the monster who tried to tear them apart. It is narrated by Stasha and Pearl, the twin Jewish girls who are so close they are almost two halves of a whole. When they arrive at Auschwitz their blonde hair gives them an Aryan appearance. They are referred to as 'Mischling' (of mixed blood) and are brought to the attention of Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death, who is infamous for experimenting on twins and multiples in Auschwitz. Being a multiple and part of Mengele's 'Zoo' gives them a higher status in the camp and yet puts them in a very different kind of danger.
Josef Mengele was portrayed as a sinister man who treated his young subjects as 'pets', and had them refer to him as 'Uncle' but, at the same time, forced them to be part of gruesome and horrific medical and genetic experiments for the sake of his amusement and interest. Despite the constant threat of the gas chambers, for Pearl and Stasha an even greater fear would be to lose each other - their other half.
What struck me almost immediately was the tone of the writing. It was beautiful yet oddly lyrical for such a heavy book with 12-year-old narrators. I liked that Stasha and Pearl were given very distinct voices but often I'd feel like their inner thoughts and way of speaking was much older than their 12 years. What Konar does showcase is the unique bond and perspective of twins and I found that fascinating.
Going into a book about Auschwitz I expect to be emotional and while I found some of the scenes very hard to read I found that this book didn't evoke a lot of emotion in me. It dealt with such inhumane, violent and sadistic treatment of children and yet I felt like the very lyrical prose prevented the reader from getting a feel for the truly dark nature of what daily life was like for these children.
The book is written in two parts: Part 1 shows what life was like for the twins in Auschwitz and Part 2 shows the chaotic aftermath when the camp was liberated. I found the first part of the book quite slow with the second part more interesting due to the faster pace and the fact that the story line had more of an objective. The ending was tied up too neatly with much of the resolution being dependent on coincidences that didn't seem plausible yet if it had ended differently I would have been disappointed.
This was an interesting and dark look at life in Mengele's world and is a study in opposites - hope vs despair, love vs hate, life vs death, power vs determination and perseverance but unfortunately I wasn't as taken with it as I had hoped to be. Still, it shines a light onto the horror of Josef Mengele's 'Zoo' and the experiments he performed on the multiples and whatever he considered to be a human oddity. It was a devastating and horrible time in history and yet Konar also provides her readers with an inkling of hope and illustrates the power of love and perseverance.
Disclaimer: My sincere thanks to Random House Canada for providing me with a complimentary paperback copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.