Book Review: Mischling
Warning: Some General Spoilers Ahead
For backstory, I saught out Mischling at the suggestion of an agent as a possible comparative title for a WWII/Holocaust historical romance novel I've been querying with agents. Prior to researching and writing my novel, I did not know about the term "Mischling", and if you're like me, it's actually really surprising to learn the history of its influence in Nazi Germany. So, let me enlighten those who were like me. "Mischling" was the label placed on mix-blooded citizens in Germany due to the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, with two forms: Mischling ersten Grades (meaning 1/2 Jewish) and Mischling zweiten Grades (meaning1/4 Jewish). Those with this label retained partial citizenship, and while still ostracized and viewed as inferior to German-blooded citizens, they were typically not the immediate targets sent to concentration camps.
Okay, history lesson over, back to Mischling by Affinity Konar.
The premise is a sad but interesting one, identical twins, Pearl and Stasha are selected by Auschwitz's mad doctor, the "Angel of Death", Josef Mengele for his infamous "Zoo" of unique genetic subjects. This man was known for doing vile experiments on twins/multiples, albinos, people with dwarfism, people with heterochromatic eyes (two different colored eyes) and more. Often with identical twins, he'd use one as control subject and experimented on the other to see the resistance and differences before killing both off.
Pearl and Stasha start their journey in the middle of this with different methods of keeping each other alive and hopeful. Pearl is put in charge of recalling "the sad, the good, the past" memories, while Stasha is in charge of "the funny, the future, the bad". They also play games with categorizing animals and guess which animal the other is charading as. As for where the title's meaning comes into place, it starts with a reference to their lighter hair color (a so-called Mischling trait, though their mother explains to Mengele that they aren't half-blooded, just had a fair father), but it also plays a metaphorical meaning later as Stasha begins to feel less connected to her twin as if she is half-blooded as a Mischling.
So, what's my opinion on this book? It is a beautifully written book in that we see the contrasting perspectives and personalities of both girls through their point of view changes in chapters. Stasha is very creative-minded and imaginative, while Pearl is much more straightforward and even-toned. Stasha's parts are written like poetry across the board, while Pearl's is much more like a standard retelling. In some ways, this is very creative, but in other ways, it was jarring for me because Stasha makes up most of the perspective in this book. Also, keep in mind that the twins are supposed to be 12 years old.
Now, I know WWII children were probably versed differently than teens today, and Stasha could very well be a bit prodigious (she gets close to Mengele, known to her as "Uncle" by claiming she wants to learn medicine and be a doctor someday), but at the same time, it made it harder to relate to her. I'm not against poetic, imaginative characters, mind you. Anne of Green Gables is one of my favorite books, and she is similarly poetic and imaginative. However, it makes it hard to tell what is factual in the accounts versus highly-creative examples of a daydreaming girl in a horrific set of circumstances. I almost wish there had been more balance between Stasha's POV chapters and Pearl's because sometimes it made the book feel confusing and longer than intended. Also, this book is split into two parts, which was a bit jarring for me when I reached that point a good 150-200 pages into it.
Furthermore, because of how she describes everything, I hate to say it but it made it very hard for me to connect with the emotional parts of the book. Don't get me wrong. I love creatively crafted scenes, but I personally favor dialogue over description so this was a harder book for me to latch onto. It's hard to cry over a scene when absentmindedly you are wondering if it actually happened or it's Stasha's imagination. Then, there are the side characters in the story. Only one of them I really wanted to know more about, and the sad truth is that it isn't due to how the character is presented in this since she gets so little focus. I won't spoil her impact too much, but she is an assistant of Mengele who is based on a real person during this timeframe who made very, very tough decisions in order to keep women (especially ones in the brothel at Auschwitz) alive. We see her guilt in this story, but again, it's so limited that you don't really have enough time to connect with her emotionally. So, that leaves us to the main characters, Stasha, Pearl, and Felick. I wanted so badly to feel for them empathically like I have with other Holocaust accounts (non-fiction and fiction), but of them all, I connect the most with Pearl since I can see things more easily through her eyes.
Overall: I give Mischling by Affinity Konar the book a 3.5/5. The premise is interesting, and if you like a very imaginative, Anne of Green Gables sort of heroine as a sense of hope in such a dark circumstances as the Holocaust, then this will probably be a good book for learning about Mengele's Zoo without the transparent depravity of all that he did being shoved down your throat. It is well-written and tackles a lot of interesting aspects of its historical counterpart. However, it felt lengthy at times for me, left me confused on some details, and just didn't connect to me emotionally for such an emotional concept. It's in no way a bad book, it just wasn't quite what I was expecting.
Where to Buy It: Amazon
Where to See Affinity Konar and her Story: Website