In Mengele's Zoo at Auschwitz, people with unique characteristics--albinisn, twins, and dwarfism among them--were singled out for human experiments. Fictional twins Pearl and Stasha devise ways to endure their torture and maintain hope of survival and life outside the Zoo--until one of them disappears. After the camp is liberated, the search for life, normalcy, and each other is paramount. Mischling is not a book for everyone. As with any story about the Holocaust, the horrors endured by so many people are difficult to stomach. While the book could have veered into "torture porn" territory (and fair warning: there are a few descriptions that are hard to take), readers are spared most of the details of the experiments. Instead, we are brought into the small moments, spaces, and relationships of the individuals ripped from their lives and fighting to maintain their own humanity while under the control of others who are determined to strip it from them.
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Pearl is in charge of: the sad, the good, the past.
Stasha must care for: the funny, the future, the bad.
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.
A superbly crafted story, told in a voice as exquisite as it is boundlessly original, Mischling defies every expectation, traversing one of the darkest moments in human history to show us the way toward ethereal beauty, moral reckoning, and soaring hope.