Originally published February 2017
To quote the philosopher George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
And this is why everyone needs to read Mischling. Now. No, really. Now.
One would hope it’s a stretch to assume that today’s political climate is a fertile ground in which we can make mistakes humanity has made in the past—mistakes so heinous it really is impossible to wrap your mind around. But Japanese internment camps happened. The Armenian genocide happened. Rwanda. Bosnia. Syria. Native Americans. And of course, the Holocaust.
Historical fiction is not typically my go-to genre, but WWII has served as the backdrop for fantastic novels including All the Light We Cannot See, Life After Life and Skeletons at the Feast. And insomuch as books that use the Holocaust to set the scene, Elie Wiesel’s Night has long served as the must-read account of the atrocities of the last World War.
Mischling landed in my lap as part of a forthcoming piece for a local magazine, and I had the opportunity to interview the book’s author, Affinity Konar, when I was mid-read. I wish I could go back now and talk more with her about the lives she created within Auschwitz’s walls. In short, it’s staggeringly horrific and breathtakingly beautiful all at once.
Readers should be forewarned — this is not an easy read. For while the characters Konar brings to life are in themselves fictional, the inhumane acts are not. As the book opens, so do the doors to the cattle car in which 12-year-old twins Stasha and Pearl are traveling to Auschwitz in, depositing them at the feet of Josef Mengele.
Their twindom is the reason they are handpicked to join the children of “Mengele’s Zoo” — a known, but lesser-discussed component of Auschwitz, if for no other reason than Mengele’s experiments are just that horrific. From the beginning and through until the end, chapters alternate in narration between the sisters, with Stasha taking the reins slightly more often.
To say much more would spoil the plotline, but I’ll say this: there were at least at least five times I broke into tears, with the final pages culminating in an ugly cry. It is heartwrenching. Heart.Wrenching.
More than anything, Mischling is a love story — that between two sisters, between survivors, between families born from blood and from circumstance. It’s a study in how souls create survival systems in the very worst of circumstances and are still able to cling to faith when faith abandons them.