I’ve put off reading ” Mischling” because of the content. You must be in the right frame of mind for a novel of this magnitude and harshness. I bring you a synopsis along with a short conversation with Affinity Konar. You can make the decision to read or not to read.
During The Holocaust there was a horrific bad guy named Dr. Josef Mengele. For those of us who’ve read extensively of The Holocaust this name means something. Something we can not imagine. Dr. Mengele specialized in twins. Children brought to Auschwitz who were twins were taken aside for special treatment. Some lost limbs, some lost eyesight, and some lost their lives during the atrocious experiments the Dr. designed. He was trying to figure out how to reproduce the perfect aryan. Most times surgery was performed without anesthesia. Barbaric and inhumane. Very difficult to read.
This is the story of Pearl and Stasha who at the tender ages of 12 were separated from their mother and grandfather in Auschwitz. They were subjected to unspeakable and terrifying atrocities. This is their story.
The following interview was conducted by Michael Silverblatt.
Questions for Affinity: Affinity was raised in California and received an MFA in fiction from Columbia University.
Q: What does mischling mean?
A: Mischling is a very charged term. It means mixed blood. It was used by the Third Reich to classify people. It’s a very terrifying word, yet it sounds so innocent and lilting. I tried to confront that world throughout the novel, and its meaning changes over the course of the novel. In the end, Stasha rejects it entirely.
Q; What difficulties did you face writing this novel? You worked on it for ten years.
A: I feel as if writing this book wasn’t so much writing as it was a constant self-interrogation and negotiation. I couldn’t shake the subject matter. It has been haunting me for years. It’s hard to feel drawn to something that you also feel that you can’t possibly do justice to.
Q: It’s a book that can’t help but be written in a heightened language, and the language is often extremely poetic. There are pages where I found myself saying that if Sylvia Plath were taking on this subject matter it might sound something like this. In other words, intensity is the job of the prose. Also, to stay calm would do injury to the subject, yes?
A: Oh, I believe so. I felt so very deeply early on that if I were to write this book, the language was going to be my entry point.
Q: Many people left the camps unable to retrieve what had happened to them. You have created two girls who are giving us the gift of their recollection. It is a book of memory, yet? Why did you decide on that?
A: To me, one of the chapter titles, “World After World,” alludes to the fact that Stasha keeps moving through this terrible world of Auschwitz while always imagining another one. And so it felt very natural to me that she be this collector of memories, that she needed to leap from world to world in order to endure.
There’s a very good reading guide in the back of this novel. You will want to use it. This powerful and harrowing story will haunt you forever. But you already suspect that. Nevertheless, it’s a must-read for book clubs and Holocaust aficionados.
My trade paper edition of “Mischling” came from LeeBoudreauxBooks. I can’t thank them enough.