Mischling by Affinity Konar – Review

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About the Book

It’s 1944 when the twin sisters arrive at Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. In their benighted new world, Pearl and Stasha Zagorski take refuge in their identical natures, comforting themselves with the private language and shared games of their childhood. As part of the experimental population of twins known as Mengele’s Zoo, the girls experience privileges and horrors unknown to others, and they find themselves changed, stripped of the personalities they once shared, their identities altered by the burdens of guilt and pain. That winter, at a concert orchestrated by Mengele, Pearl disappears. Stasha grieves for her twin, but clings to the possibility that Pearl remains alive. When the camp is liberated by the Red Army, she and her companion Feliks – a boy bent on vengeance for his own lost twin – travel through Poland’s devastation. Undeterred by injury, starvation, or the chaos around them, motivated by equal parts danger and hope, they encounter hostile villagers, Jewish resistance fighters, and fellow refugees, their quest enabled by the notion that Mengele may be captured and brought to justice within the ruins of the Warsaw Zoo. As the young survivors discover what has become of the world, they must try to imagine a future within it.

My Review

When I first started reading Mischling I was intrigued by the title but had no idea what it meant. When I found out, it was the first of many times that I felt chilled reading this novel. Pearl and Stasha are twins and have recently arrived at Aushcwitz and soon realise the level of danger that they are all in. Very soon after arrival they have the attention of Josef Mengele. Stasha feels that she has the power and will to charm him into getting better treatment for her mother and grandfather. She believes his promises and outwardly accepts all what he does. But in her mind, she only wants revenge.
There is so much about the novel that is devastating. The images created of suffering loss and death were very vivid. But the strength, loyalty and willpower shown by the twins and their friends was humbling. I had to keep reminding myself that the twins were only twelve years old and their friends not much older.
The narrative switches between Pearl and Stasha, both say how they suffer under Mengele, Elma a nurse and Taube a guard. Mengele was evil, I was aware of that prior to reading but the venom displayed by Elma and Taube was just as upsetting. Especially Taube, just as I thought things would be ok. But then there were others, who had no choice but to do what they were told and really struggled coping with their deeds.
Whilst both narratives were fascinating it was Pearl’s account that I preferred. There was part of her story that left me distraught and that image will stay with me for a while. There was a lot to get upset about in the novel but the strength of character, will and loyalty made it much easier to read. It gave a sense of hope that there could be a future for all the ones who suffered.
There will be some who believe that novels like this shouldn’t be written but my opinion is that they need to be. I believe that we are heading into a situation that nobody will remember or be aware of what happened during this time. Affinity Konar was inspired by the twin girls Eva and Miriam Mozes who both survived Mengele’s experiments.
A desperately sad novel that was also full of love and hope.
With thanks to the publisher for the copy received.

The Midnight Watch by David Dyer

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On a black night in April 1912, fifteen hundred passengers and crew perish as the Titanic slowly sinks beneath the freezing waters of the North Atlantic. Charting the same perilous course through the icebergs is the SS Californian, close enough for her crew to see the eight white distress rockets fired by the Titanic. Yet the Californian fails to act, and later her crew insist that they saw nothing.

As news of the disaster spreads throughout America, journalists begin a feeding frenzy, desperate for stories. John Steadman is one such reporter, a man broken by alcoholism, grief and a failed marriage. Steadman senses blood as he fixates on the Californian and his investigation reveals a tense and perplexing relationship between the ship’s captain and second officer, who hold the secrets of what occurred that night. Slowly he peels back the layers of deception, and his final, stunning revelation of what happened while the Titanic sank will either redeem the men of the Californian, or destroy them.

My Review:

I didn’t really know way to expect when I started reading this novel but I found it to be a fascinating and at times heartbreaking read. John Steadman is a journalist. His personal life is a mess but he finds solace in becoming a champion of the ones who have been failed. When he suspects that something is not quite right with the accounts of those onboard the SS Californian he becomes obsessed with learning and revealing the truth.
It was hard to warm to most onboard the SS Californian. Herbert Stern wasn’t supported by his captain when he notified him about what he was seeing from the stricken Titanic but for some reason remained loyal to him throughout the investigation. It seemed like he was the only one who mourned any loss of life. Some of others were just concerned about selling their accounts.
The final section of the novel, about the Sage family was devastating to read. A fictionalised account of a family who were actually onboard and all perished. I could just imagine the fear that they felt when along with so many others they watched lifeboats sail away half empty.
I very much enjoyed this novel and would like to thank the publisher for the copy received.

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The Titanic Memorial, Belfast.