Mischling is the story of identical “half-Jewish” twins, Pearl and Stasha, who spent part of WWII in Mendele’s Zoo as human experiments, along with dozens of other children who were also multiples. As twins, they divide the responsibilities of surviving and resolve that they can handle anything–together. When Pearl goes missing, Stasha relentlessly searches for her and continues her search following the liberation of Auschwitz. Aided by another cleaved twin, she searches throughout the territory of post-war Germany, Austria, and Poland.
This story is told in twin narratives, part from Stasha’s and part from Pearl’s perspective, though Stasha is really the main character. Perhaps for this reason, the standout narrative in this story is the wholeness these sisters feel together and the aching ghost-pain loss apart. Retrospectively, I found myself at times unable to distinguish certain passages. When I went looking, was surprised that I wrongly attributed certain thoughts or events. This story lives through the duality of these twin girls who happen to live in a concentration camp. Their strength is in their power held up by two, and whose loss isn’t the lost of their country, their race, or their family, but the loss of each other.
With regard to the setting, it was brutal–of course–but not as haunting as it has been in other recent fictional narratives set at the same time. It was what I would expect from a WWII concentration camp novel, filled with details expected and unexpected. The prose is flowery and extravagant, but beautiful. It is at once an ode to the human spirit and at odds with the subject matter. Konar does an excellent job with her words, juxtaposing expansive, imaginative prose with the bitter brutalities of Nazi Germany for the Jewish minority.
I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed this novel, so much as I endured it, but for the right reasons. It was painful, immediate, and devastating, despite the recreation of the (by now) existing WWII story. I would absolutely recommend reading it.