4 of 11
368 pages; Lee Boudreaux Books
"Have you ever had to live with the best part of yourself adrift, stationed at some unknowable distance?" So asks Stasha, one of the two narrators of Affinity Konar's triumphant first novel, Mischling, which follows sisters who refuse to be separated during their internment at Auschwitz or in the chaos following liberation.
Mischling illuminates the unspeakable world of the death camp through the eyes of Stasha and her sister, Pearl. As twins, they are of special interest to Nazi physicians, most notably Josef Mengele, whose real-life atrocities Konar re-creates on the basis of extraordinary research. In a place where "children come and children go like minutes," twins are exposed to horrors no one—let alone a child—is likely to recover from. Boiling water is poured into Stasha's ear; she sees into a room where rows of prisoners' extracted eyeballs are displayed. On steel tables piled with "instruments and confusions," Pearl undergoes surgeries that diminish her irreparably.

Yet the novel never devolves into a catalog of depravities. What gives this exquisitely told story its power, why it belongs to the twins and not to their torturers, is the unbreakable bond between Stasha and Pearl. By allowing us to see the darkest places through the eyes of innocents, Konar, astonishingly, delivers something pure. In what could be the bleakest of worlds, Mischling gives us moments of transcendent hope and even beauty.

— Alice Whitwham