A complimentary advanced reader copy of this book was provided by Lee Boudreax Books in exchange for an honest review. (Thank you!) My review was in no way influenced by this consideration.
Mischling: (German. plural: Mischlinge): “mixed-blood.” The legal term used in Nazi Germany to denote persons deemed to have both Aryan and Jewish ancestry.
I thought I would be engrossed by Mischling. I have an intense curiosity about the years and people surrounding World War II, particularly those in Germany while the war raged. I have long believed in the complexity of humanity, and it’s important to me to try and comprehend the motivations of those people who found themselves involved in the diverse arms of Germany’s war. I find myself deeply moved by the plight of the populations who were terrorized by holocaust, and repeatedly astounded that such a thing could have ever happened, but particularly in such recent history.
I am also a mother of two sets of twins. So when a book comes along about a pair of twins taken in by Mengele for experimentation, I was pretty sure I’d be absorbed. Probably horrified, but gripped, for sure.
Honestly, at it’s heart, there is a good story within Mischling. But I felt it was buried within so much frippery and navel-gazing that I really struggled with both hands to find it. Within even the first couple of pages, I was frustrated with the language. I felt Konar was trying too hard to be esoteric, but it seemed like she switched out of it and got down to real writing before long. I was grateful. Occasionally this aimless, florid style reappeared, particularly after the mid-point of the book. I actually skipped a couple of chapters because I got so frustrated, and found I hadn’t really missed anything plot-wise. That’s disappointing.
Where Mischling truly suffers, though, is in its comparisons to the lyricism of All the Light We Cannot See. It’s a brave thing to compare a novel to a Pulitzer-winning work, and here the comparison simply is not apt. Anthony Doerr’s voice is so distinct, his language so precise, and his pacing so deliberate. This is not that. Konar is nothing like Doerr, but she does have a unique expressiveness of her own. The only similarity I find between the novels is a particular thematic element of the relationships of children who are struggling for survival, set against WWII. But while Doerr focuses on the innocence of children and their ability to adapt and maintain optimism, Konar directs her focus toward the ways in which war can strip children of their ability to trust or hope until they become fixated on revenge as a motivation for survival.
My other major complaint, particularly as a parent of twins, was the implication that all twins are psychically connected. It would be one thing if Konar had made it clear that this was something she felt was unique to Stasha and Pearl; I’m willing to suspend disbelief for a lot of things within the framework of a story. However, she seemed to reference the idea with regard to the other sets of twins in Mengele’s zoo, as well. As a parent of two sets of my own, I could practically hear my own eyes roll at this silliness. A lot of the character development and even some of the plot depended on this device, and I just could not buy it.
Ultimately, Michling was an interesting story, but it had some timing issues (I haven’t even mentioned the rushed ending) and I wasn’t in love with the writing style. I would really love to see a version of it edited down without all the detours and stalling and attempts to be “smart.” I think, deep down, there’s a story there that can stand on its own.