Up until recently, I had to stop reading books set during WWII. I couldn’t take anymore horror. I was having nightmares about hiding in a subway tunnel during the Blitz. The truth is, though, that these horrors actually happened, and they were real life nightmares to so many. So, I’m not giving up.
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.