‘While she talked, I hummed in my mind so I didn’t have to hear what she said. I hummed “Blue Danube” till its blueness began to cloak my thoughts, but even this blueness wasn’t enough to drown out the whole story.’
Let me start by saying that Mischling is without doubt one of the best books I read in 2018. I picked it up in Oxfam a while ago, drawn in by the blurb on the back cover (I wrote my MA dissertation on Holocaust literature so this is a subject I’m very interested in). I finally sat down to read it the weekend before Christmas, and am so glad I did.
It is 1944 when identical twins Pearl and Stasha arrive at Auschwitz, hiding beneath their grandfather’s coat. Desperate to save her children, and hearing that twins are especially well looked after in the camp, their mother tells one of the guards about them and he hands them over to their new Uncle, otherwise known as Josef Mengele. Housed together with other twins, triplets, an albino girl and countless other ‘special’ children, the twins have to adapt quickly to find ways to cling on to life in a place designed only to extinguish it.
Although it is utterly heartbreaking – as any book about the fate of twins in Auschwitz would be – the writing is stunning, and Pearl and Stasha are completely wonderful. I especially love the way they communicate with each other, and (to me, as a non-twin) it feels as though Konar has done a fantastic job of writing their relationship, as well as retelling the horrors of camp life under Mengele through their young eyes. It’s definitely one of those books that made me a bit scared to read on because of the awfulness contained in its pages, but at the same time I couldn’t put it down because I needed to keep reading and find out what happens. I was completely under Konar’s spell; there’s something about her use of language and the characters that wouldn’t (in fact, won’t) let me go. Pearl and Stasha’s goodness in the face of such cruelty is heartwarming and, overall, this is just some of the best writing I’ve seen in a while.
Published by Atlantic Books, 2017