The Holocaust must be one of the most written-about events in history – and so this makes it a risky bet for a novelist. You need powerful storytelling or a real angle.
Affinity Konar definitely comes at it from a different angle, telling the story of a set of twins who catch the eye of infamous Dr Josef Mengele at Auschwitz. Pearl and Stasha are those twins so intertwined that Stasha often answers to Pearl and resents anything that reinforces their separateness. This unfortunately makes them fascinating to Mengele, who longed to explore this kind of connection, purposefully protecting one twin whilst damaging and deforming the other to watch it impact the pair.
Konar definitely exposes the world of Mengele’s ghastly twin experiments and uses some astonishing language to describe the strange beauties of the environment even in the most horrid places in the world.
“Night. It had forgotten it should not be so beautiful in Auschwitz. There was no stopping it’s velvet sway..”
But beyond language and conception, there isn’t much original about the story Konar tells. Some takes place in Auschwitz, but there are also long and meandering sections afterwards. The title too is a strange misnomer… ‘Mischling’ is the German term for a person of mixed race. Is it meant to suggest that each twin is merely the product of the mixing of both? This seems limiting and redundant.
Although Pearl and Stasha make interesting characters and the nature of their “twin-ness” is heartwarming, I’d save my reading of the Holocaust for Eli Weisel’s Night or even Martin Amis’ Times Arrow instead. These have real power.