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.
So well-written and you are so invested in these two girls. Terrible things that went on during that war are so hard to even imagine. The book does not get gory,
To me, this is a book that should be listed on the 1001 books to read before you die list.
The plot of MISCHLING comes in two parts pre- and post-liberation. In the first, Pearl and Stasha are assigned to Mengele’s Zoo where they are separated from each other. Pearl is tortured while Stasha is kept as an experimental control. The twins are extremely close. They like to play a game where they read each other’s mind. But Mengele separates them and this proves to be a form of torture for both. Pearl is an introvert and highly observant. She keeps notes of their experiences. Stasha is the extrovert. She develops close alliances with other children in the zoo, plots revenge, and pines for her sister. Mengele is not a prominent character in the story. Instead he appears as a shadowy and threatening presence in the twins’ world. By contrast, the other characters appear as heroic figures. Bruna, the Romani albino, is self-confident and brazen. Twins' Father attempts to rescue children by passing them off as twins. Dr. Miri, a Jewish physician forced to assist Mengele, is profoundly conflicted about her role. She speaks of it after the liberation, “These are only some of the brutalities I can speak of. They are too innumerable and varied, so grotesque — I do not have the words.” Peter has a favorable position in the camp as the Nazis’ messenger. He develops a caring relationship with Pearl. Feliks has lost his twin brother to Mengele’s barbarism, a condition that Stasha can appreciate. Following the liberation of the camp, they embark on a hapless journey to find and punish Mengele.
The post-liberation part of the novel follows the former inmates as they are either marched to their deaths by Nazi guards, or liberated by the Russians. Konar manages to capture the total chaos that must have prevailed after liberation. In their travels to Warsaw looking for Mengele, Stasha and Feliks encounter multiple adversities, including other refugees, Jewish fighters seeking to kill Nazi sympathizers, and hostile villagers. Action adventure drives this section, and thus it seems to fall short of the subtler and more meditative quality of the earlier part. Pearl’s journey to Krakow in a wheelbarrow works better because of the guilt and psychological pain being experienced by her two companions, Twins’ Father and Dr. Miri. The ending of the novel seems too contrived and too redemptive. One doubts that “happily ever after” would be in store for most of the people so damaged by this experience.
Konar’s research is evident in her deft re-imagination of Auschwitz in 1944. In addition to the bizarre world of Mengele’s Zoo, she also relates how the Nazis stored seized possessions in a facility the inmates called “Canada” and the brothel servicing guards known as “Puff.”
In general the writing is excellent, seamlessly blending reality with fantasy using lyrical prose. However, distinguishing between the two was often problematic. Likewise, the choice of mischling as the title seems enigmatic because the word was used by the Nazis to denote people of mixed Jewish and Aryan heritage. Clearly this was not the case with Pearl and Stasha.
Without doubt, that sentence alone is enough to send some readers running away from the book. Others, just as certainly, will read the book blurb's first few sentences and put the book down, or begin it... and leave it unfinished. Before I read it, I heard the beginning was difficult to get through, and knowing the subject, I prepared myself to dive into it--perhaps, since I read an awful lot of dark books (though normally not so based in fact/history as this one is), I managed the beginning alright, and in fact expected worse. And yet, still, there were times when the emotion, and the reminder that this was based in truth more than fiction, made it so that I had to put the book down, and I even thought once about not finishing, I admit -- but then I kept going, and was glad I had. But, in truth, it was the last part of the book that was most difficult for me personally to read, so that I have to mention it, as well. I suppose it comes down to whether you can more easily read about immediate pain or drawn-out grief, or torture or its aftermath, which will determine whether the beginning or the end of the book is more difficult. For me, the ending pieces of the book made the whole story all the more real, and painful almost tangible, albeit that this was a story peopled only occasionally by real characters, and I probably took twice as long to get through the final six chapters as I did the first 3/4ths of the book.
But, was it worth it? Yes.
Affinity Konar has pieced together a masterful and emotional view into not only characters placed in Mengele's so-called 'zoo', but into the beauty, love, emotion, and survival involved within such walls as these found at Auschwitz--but without, for even a moment, romanticizing or easing the view. She hasn't dwelled on the pain or the physicality of it, or even the grief, but she has not avoided any of that, either. It's not a story that's easily read, as beautifully written and carefully researched and fast-moving (yes, fast-moving) as it is. And as someone who writes, I can't imagine the pain involved in writing it and living with the characters she's peopled this work with. But at the same time, it is an important and powerful work of fiction. More than any non-battlefield WWII fiction I've read, this carries with it a weight of history and emotion that, for me, makes it all the more beautiful and terrible.
Not all readers will be able to read this. If I were still teaching contemporary literature, I imagine I'd tell my students they Should read it, but feel that I couldn't ask them to, and I imagine I'll tell others about this book and only recommend it carefully, or half-heartedly, knowing what a difficult read it is. I'm not sure I could give it as a gift or demand anyone, student or otherwise, go through it--it's that difficult a read because of the content, and the weight involved in the story. But, that said, it is also a book which is remarkable and careful, and utterly worth reading if you can.
Pearl and Stasha are definitely two halves of the whole. Pearl remembers the past and the sad while Stasha is assigned to remember the funny and the future. They are so connected that they know what each other is thinking and feeling until they start trying to block the pain that Dr Mengle is inflicting on them to keep the other from feeling their pain. They make friends and learn to live in their new environment because they are told that their cooperation will help their mother and grandfather. Their story is heartbreaking but there is also hope for the future sprinkled through their stories.
I am not going to tell you that this is an easy book to read. I had to put it down more than once because I just couldn't imagine what was being done to these children in the name of medicine. One good thing is that the author doesn't go into great detail about the experimentation but if you are at all familiar with this time period, you know what's happening. I am definitely glad that I read this book and I know that the characters of Pearl and Stasha are going to stay in my mind. Will you cry while you read it -- ABSOLUTELY -- but you will also see those small opportunities for hope in the future.
What ultimately saves the story is their innocence. No matter what tortures they face, Pearl and Stasha maintain their faith in each other and in a better world filled with love. They never lose the childlike innocence, which is both a marvel and a tragedy given what they face in the camp. Their connection to each other is the stuff of legends, and one can understand why doctors would be interested in their bond – even if Mengele’s methods of studying such things are downright depraved. The true beauty lies in their relationships to their fellow Zoo inmates, the willingness to endanger themselves for others, and the protection they afford one another when things get truly bad.
We have all heard about conditions at Auschwitz for the general population, so viewing the camp from the relative protection of Mengele’s Zoo is a unique and chilling experience. The nonchalance with which the girls reference the constant “snow”, the crematorium ovens, guard cruelty, random violence, starvation, and the sadistic arrival procedures for new prisoners is difficult to stomach at times. On the one hand, one can view it as a coping mechanism; when surrounded by such constant death and despair, there is no doubt that fatalism sets in at some point in time. At other times though, there is a tinge of smugness in the descriptions, as if Pearl and Stasha are taking pleasure in their relative safety as one of Mengele’s pets. It is a disturbing glimpse into the psychological trauma occurring because of the close proximity to daily death and torture.
In spite of its horribleness, there is something profoundly beautiful about Mischling. The language itself is breathtakingly beautiful, bordering on poetic. Ms. Konar balances the dark with the light, following a sentence filled with horror with one that is simple and filled with hope. The language demands to be savored and absorbed, even while one wants to skim over the passages that highlight the experiments or the aftermath of them. Mischling is not a novel that one races to finish. It is not even the type of novel one particularly enjoys reading, but what you receive from it is worth every painstaking second.
Many people will pass on this novel, for obvious and very well understood reasons. All I can tell you is that the author has somehow made this work very readable, without in any way lessening the horror of the activities which took place, and that is quite an accomplishment. The events of the novel are related through the eyes of the two young girls in a somewhat hazy and ethereal fashion, which at the same time, informs the reader of the many atrocities committed at the camp, without being overtly graphic or specific. While I am not usually a fan of this type of writing, I’ve got to say that in this case, it was perhaps the only way to relate the story to a general audience.
The first half of the novel takes place within the camp, while the second half covers the period immediately following “liberation” of the camp and the subsequent wanderings of Mengele’s subjects throughout the Polish countryside. A very depressing subject, but one that in this case, is beautifully presented.
The story unfolds through alternating narration of a set of twin girls - Pearl and Stasha. They are taken to Auschwitz where they live in Mengele's "Zoo," where they and others are subjected to
While neither grisly or graphic, there were a couple of scenes that were so appalling that I felt heart-sick and wasn't sure I could finish the book. Historical record is relentless. Knowing there were so many people who suffered dreadfully at the hands of other human beings is a real-life horror.
It's not a book I could recommend, though I wouldn't dissuade anyone drawn to read it. As important as it is to keep a remembrance of this time in history, reading it felt like carrying an emotional burden without any way or place to release it.
You really do feel
As to when Pearl disappears, you feel the separation anxiety as you progress through the novel. You feel Stasha's pain and emptiness. Her other half is gone and she has no idea if she's alive or not. You can feel the void within Stasha and as you continue reading, you're still feeling the pain and you're wondering throughout the novel if she will ever see Pearl again. This is great writing on the authors part as you can distinctly feel what the characters are feeling throughout the novel.
There's a small cast of characters in this book. Some stand out more than others. Bruna stood out for me a lot. I loved every aspect of her and her strength. Then you have Peter, Feliks and the nursing staff at the camp. You don't get attached to them as much as Pearl and Stasha are the main ones to be focused on. However, for me, I really loved Bruna.
The only criticism I would have for this book is I found it sometimes a little too wordy and poetic at times. It made it for some areas of the book hard to follow - it would be best to avoid this type of writing. Yes it sets the mood and makes it melancholy but the subject matter itself is already sad and tragic to begin with. I believe that's enough as it is.
Definitely recommended for those that are interested in this particular historical period.
The book was set in 1944, and the abomination of Hitler’s Germany was still thriving. At twelve years old, twins Stasha and Pearl Zagorski were riding in a cattle car with their mother and grandfather. Their father had already
Both girls were separated from their grandfather and mother almost immediately upon their arrival at Auschwitz. Their mother believing that multiples, like triplets and twins, were given special consideration, pointed them out to a guard who pointed them out to the truly evil Dr. Mengele. She had no idea to what they would now be subjected, although the alternative might have meant their immediate selection for the gas chamber. Pearl and Stasha were chosen to live in the “zoo”, which is what the “Uncle Doctor” Mengele called the area in which the twins and other multiples were housed, tortured and experimented upon. Their uniqueness was considered quite an opportunity for scientific study, using them as lab rats. The nurses, doctors and soldiers were without mercy, and their cruelty seemed to know no bounds. There were a few exceptions, such as Dr. Miri and “Twins’ Father”. They cared for and tried the best they could to protect and help those poor unsuspecting children from the horror that awaited them. They were forced to participate in a charade to make the children feel safer than they ever would be, because they were prisoners too.
There is an emotional tug to this book that takes hold and does not let go as the world of these twins was shattered, as their once joyous, happy life was transformed into a dreadful experience with the ultimate aim of breaking their spirits and their bodies, of destroying them for the sake of science. They were considered vermin like all the others that did not fit the picture of Hitler’s pure Aryan German specimen.
Dr. Mengele could only be considered vile and insane, sadistic and brutally cruel beyond the imagination of any normal human being. How the captive and tortured children learned to survive and find hope and a bit of happiness in the darkness of the world that Mengele created for them, was awe-inspiring, especially since the author researched the background of the “zoo” to make it as authentic as possible, and such things, therefore, did actually exist and occur, not only in her imagination, but, in fact, at the death camp, Auschwitz.
The Holocaust destroyed generations of Jewish families, lives were ended that could never be resurrected, brilliant minds were snuffed out, victims who survived were completely scarred physically and mentally by what they witnessed and lived through, altered beyond repair in some cases. Still, most tried to fight back when they could, tried to begin to live again and reproduce the beauty of their former lives. The ending seemed to be a bit unrealistic, in the breadth and scope of the salvation described, and therefore seemed a bit like a fairytale at the end, but that was the only drawback I found in the novel. All else seemed to follow the history, although the characters were fictitious, of the horror of the year or so that the young twins spent in captivity, until the end of the war and ultimate freedom.
The author’s presentation captured, with descriptive and eloquent prose, the devastation that these youngsters faced and even managed to overcome in some instances. The novel was difficult to read, but its impact was softened by the gifted presentation of the author, so the brutality, as awful as it was when depicted, could be borne by the reader. The author captured the intimacy and unique connection that multiples share in both their emotions and their intellect. She described their spiritual connection as well as their physical one, with a true portrayal of how they were often able to intuit each other’s thoughts and pain. In a coincidental connection to me, the Dr. Pearl introduced by the author at the end of the book, happened to have been my mother-in-law’s doctor so I had been privy to some of her stories prior to this reading.
As a twin, I can attest to the feeling of loss when one is no longer with the other. There is a unique emptiness that feels like the survivor is missing a piece of themselves. This, in itself, makes Mengele’s cruelty that much worse. He seemed to understand and exploit the beauty of those relationships. Still, he did no act alone, and as long as I live, I will never understand the mindset of those who went along with Hitler, his thugs and his madmen, the women who supported his barbaric, insane needs, ideas and behavior. Those who survived needed great courage to go on with the horrid memories that were imprinted upon their minds.
With many elements similar to The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, how could it have gone so boring?
Stasha and Pearl are one pair among the many twins Doctor Mengele
The narration, divided between the sisters, is probably the big thing about this book. It is somewhat inconsistent and that makes for a good show of how their psyche deteriorates as time goes by. At the same time, the author failed to make the reading as interesting for people like me who aren't into more introspective narrations. Also, for half the book, whenever it was Stasha's turn—Pearl's was much more grounded—, she described things so... uniquely? I had no idea what was happening and no will to reread until I understood.
I can't say the characters were all that lovable. I wasn't even sure if I wanted them to get out of there alive, as it became clear they would be safe and sound ever again. One thing this book did well was to depict Mengele's cruelty in depth without being crude. In no moment the story becomes flourished, enchanting or magical but it wasn't anything close to gore. At the same time I don't recommend to the sensitive, I'm sure this could have been much more raw.
The ending wasn't bad but it lacked better explaining. I still wonder how all that was possible, and to be honest I felt a little aggravated by some reveals.
This book isn't so much about the war as an attempt to make something different. I applaud the attempt but not the result. I've seen it go great, as with The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, but this was a failure in my opinion. Not that easy to read even if the vocabulary is okay and not exciting in any moment, I took days and days and days. I'd have passed this could I go back in time.
Honest review based on an ARC provided by Netgalley. Many thanks to the publisher for this opportunity.
Mischling is worth it, even if it’s difficult.
Stasha and Pearl are twin sisters who have been sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau as part of Mengele’s Zoo. There are atrocities. There is torture, medical experimentation, unspeakable dehumanization. By being part of the Zoo, the sisters believe that they may be getting special treatment and their mother and grandfather are better taken care of. The torture the girls undergo, however, isn’t always explicit. Konar has a delicate hand, and many of the terrors are indirect and left up to the imagination of the reader, often to an even more powerful effect.
What I appreciated most is that the story of the sisters doesn’t end with the liberation of the camps. There is no scene of the girls grabbing a Russian soldier by the hand and being led into the sunshine through the gates. There is no “happily ever after” now that the war is over. There is only “after.” The real story starts after the horrors of the camp have ended. Now the children of Mengele’s Zoo are free, but they’re lost. They have no families, they can’t find their parents or siblings. The children and those adults who were forced to assist Mengele with his experiments are left to fend for themselves, burdened with the memories of what they had to endure, and what they had to do to others in order to survive. There were delusional rationalizations they had to construct for self-preservation, and now that clarity has come they’re not sure what’s true anymore.
Please don’t be dissuaded by the subject matter. Like I said above, Mischling is worth it. It’s worth it because it’s honest. One of the sisters is bent on revenge. She fantasizes about plans to hunt and kill Mengele. She contemplates suicide. She imagines what life may be like without her sister, and it’s unendurable. She holds on to violence and draws power from it. She seeks how to make herself whole again, but she can’t let go of her anger. This book is about moving forward, finding the strength to believe that there is an “after.”
The effects will last a lifetime, but the love they hold onto will carry them through. Mischling is sorrowful and unimaginable, but it’s also redemptive. The story of Stasha and Pearl deserves to be read.
This review is also posted on flyleafunfurled.com.
Review/notes to come
Despite the pain and abuse Mengele causes her and Pearl, Stasha proactively befriends Mengele believing it will help them survive. Pearl is more realistic, and as she weakens, tries unsuccessfully to prepare Stasha to survive on her own. Their love and efforts for each other are breath-taking, as are their friendships and help to others in the "zoo."
A very visual book I can see being made into a movie; but how a film can capture the poetic language of the feelings and thoughts will be a huge challenge.
A book that will make you cry.
Hauntingly lyrical, and shattering, Mischling is a recount of some of the Holocaust horrors that children in Auschwitz were subjected to at the hands of Dr. Joseph Mengele. Interested in twins, the emotionally stunted
Our narrators, thirteen year-old twins Pearl and Stasha are two halves of a whole. Stasha is in charge of the funny, the future, and takes on the bad. Pearl is the sad, the good, and the past. They are despair and loss, they are hope and light. Through Konar's thoughtful and magical prose, the girls deliver their story in two halves to the reader in the hopes of becoming whole again.
Like Doerr's quote on the jacket—if your soul can survive the journey, you'll be rewarded by by reading one of the most powerful and beautifully written books of the year.
Being a twin, I gravitate to twin to stories but they rarely do anything for me. The authors never seem to hit the mark. So here again, I tried
It wasn't bad but I'm glad it's done.
The beginning of this book tells a little about the history of twins Pearl and Stasha and what happened when they arrived at Auschwitz. They become part of Josef Mengele's horrific experiments and do everything