Posted in Author Q&As

Author Q&A: Affinity Konar, “Mischling”

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To celebrate the paperback release of the amazing and emotional read, “Mischling,” I got a chance to ask author Affinity Konar some questions about the novel. I am a big fan of her debut work so I am thrilled to share her answers with you!

And if you haven’t read the book yet, go get a copy; you won’t be disappointed.


Why was this subject important for you to write about?
It was so important to me actually, that I wanted to not write it. My family left Poland in 1932, and were harbored safely in America, so while I was growing up I always felt pulled back to the period, and to what could have been, if my ancestors weren’t offered this refuge. I think it’s necessary to live with that warning in the back of your mind, especially today, to let it echo in remembrance. When I was a teenager, I found the story of the twins in Children of the Flames by Lucette Lagnado, and so many of the testimonies approached questions of to how to retain one’s own humanity, how to survive, resist, and attempt to restore oneself after unimaginable trauma. After I read that, I couldn’t stop imagining a conversation between a pair of twins whose bond was their refuge, their means to survival.


How did you find the balance between such a dark subject and an ultimately uplifting story?
The trickiness of finding that balance is one of the reasons that the book took so long to write. One doesn’t want to impose any kind of veneer that might lessen the trauma of a very real experience. But I wanted to pay tribute to stories of incredible endurance that I can’t help but be inspired by, specifically because they arose out of the extreme darkness of Shoah. So managing this element came down to voice for me, in the end. The imagery that arises out of the voices of Stasha and Pearl may be charming, but they function as veils for horror. It was my hope that the very necessity for these veils–or the fact that the girls would resort to such transformative thinking–would magnify the true peril that they endure.


What is your advice to aspiring authors?
I have to quote Sarah Manguso from “300 Arguments”. “I’ve written whole books to avoid writing other books.” That was my life for a long time. Nothing that came out of that avoidance was very good. So I’d say that honoring your desire to write about what scares you most is important. If it’s not terrifying you on a certain level, if might feel necessary enough to bring out the best you have to offer as a writer. Also, oatmeal is cheap and nutritious when times are lean, dogs are good for getting you out of the house, and you should read everything you can, whether you’re drawn to the text or not, because it all informs the kind of stance you’ll take on the page


What are you working on next?
It feels odd to talk about this, because this book has felt like my life’s work, and I honestly never expected to finish it, much less start another. But I have found myself writing in hotel rooms while touring, so I guess I won’t be stopping any time soon? It’s currently in chaos, but it’s a chaos centered by a search for meaning and restoration, and I suspect that this is an element that will always be afoot in whatever I attempt to do.



About the Author

2894415Affinity Konar was raised in California. While writing MISCHLING, she worked as a tutor, proofreader, technical writer, and editor of children’s educational workbooks. She studied fiction at SFSU and Columbia. She is of Polish-Jewish descent, and currently lives in Los Angeles.

She dearly misses writing about Pearl and Stasha, and is grateful to any reader who might find the company of the twins.

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Posted in Reviews

In the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell

In the Shadow of LakecrestIn the Shadow of Lakecrest by Elizabeth Blackwell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I DEVOURED this book.

I was worried that the historical (1920’s) setting would give the book a stilted/overly complicated style. But this book was such an easy read on top of such a great story, that I didn’t even realize how quickly I was racing through it.

The novel tells the love story of Kate Moore – raised by a poor mother who dreamed of a rich, handsome husband for her only child – and Matthew Lemont, a wealthy heir to a Chicago family’s fortune and terrible legacy. The Lemonts are well-respected, but also feared due to rumors of strange happenings on the family estate, Lakecrest. Many of the tumors surround Matthew’s aunt, Cecily, an eccentric artist who disappeared into a strange building 16 years before. As Kate unravels the family’s secrets, can she keep her sanity and her life from falling apart?

This story has it all: rumors of strange, heathen rituals, an evil mother-in-law, family secrets, a weird, sprawling estate; literally every gothic novel element is there, just waiting to be unraveled. And the author does a great job of using each element just enough to keep you guessing. There are enough moving parts to keep you guessing until the end.

I also liked that you couldn’t trust any of the characters in the novel. It wasn’t clear who was telling the truth, who was insane, etc. throughout the book. Even Kate comes under suspicion. That’s really the mark of a great suspense novel, when you truly feel you can’t even trust the person telling the story – you’re so wrapped up in the intrigue.

I also loved the ending. So neat and clean. It really was the exact perfect way it should have ended.

I highly recommend this novel to people who love suspense and great thrillers. I look forward to this author’s next work.

A++

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Posted in Reviews

The Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander

The Magdalen GirlsThe Magdalen Girls by V.S. Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you’ve never heard of Ireland’s Magdalene Laundries, I would suggest googling them before reading this book. The subject is difficult and rage-inducing (to think people could treat each other like that!) but these were indeed true places.

I first heard about the laundries through the movie “The Magdalene Sisters,” which would be a good companion to this book for those who want to learn more. The laundries were places for “fallen women” to go in very Catholic Ireland, where they were treated as prisoners, doing heavy manual labor under the Watch of often cruel nuns, and they could not be released until, generally, a male family member came to retrieve them. Many were only released through death.

“The Magdelen Girls” depicts one of these places, The Sisters of Divine Redemption, in a very real and powerful way. Set in the 1960s, the book follows three girls who find themselves given over to the nuns by their families for various offenses, including “seduction,” and just generally not being useful around the house. Seriously.

The book is a bit depressing because – as in the movie I mentioned – even when the women are rescued – they often feel empty, betrayed, hopeless, etc. Happy endings are few and far between here. And this book is also light on them.

In specific terms, the book also doesn’t add much to the understanding of the places, so I would recommend it mostly for people new to the subject. It’s also pretty unresolved in the end. I don’t want to give too many spoilers, but things aren’t completed in the end. As was the case in real life, some of the girls are “out” but some aren’t, and the nuns go unpunished. It just, is.

So, if this is a subject which interests you, I would pick this book up. But if you’re well-versed in the subject, and are looking for more of a detailed account, I would recommend some of the memoirs that are out there.

Either way, I’m glad that the memory of what these women went through isn’t forgotten.

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Posted in Reviews

Mischling by Affinity Konar

MischlingMischling by Affinity Konar

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Starting off: Mischling is about twins in Auschwitz and is a work of fiction. I highly, highly recommend Eva Kor’s memoir “Surviving the Angel of Death,” for a true story of this experience. Eva is a true hero and survivor – and is even mentioned in this book. I recommend reading Eva’s book first, to provide context and understanding of Mischling.

Now, to Mischling itself.

This book is difficult because of its subject – Mengele’s experiments on humans at Auschwitz – but it is an important work because it shines a light on one of the lesser-known horrors of the Holocaust and the after effects that weigh heavy on survivors.

The book follows Polish twins Stasha and Pearl, who are placed in Mengele’s “zoo,” with the other assortment of individuals he deemed interesting: twins/triplets primarily, but also dwarves, people with albinism, anyone he deemed “special.” Stasha and Pearl become separated before the camp’s liberation and face two distinct paths afterward toward a new future, in a new Poland scarred by war.

This book was incredibly moving and depicted the struggles not only of surviving the camps but also surviving afterward. It’s something that we don’t really think about, but survivors weren’t just suddenly welcomed back with open arms and given their homes and valuables back; they faced violence, fear, and uncertainty, along with the after effects of their terrible ordeals. This book does a good job of depicting that. It also shows why it was so important for these survivors to get justice – even years after the fact. Too often, people today dismiss this need for healing, but when you see the devastation and impact of someone like Mengele or other guards, you can get a glimpse of why it is so important.

At times, the book was hard to follow. The line between reality and illusion is purposely blurred in the book, which is presented as a bit of a gruesome fairy tale, but that also makes it hard for the reader to follow at certain points.

Overall, a very good work which chronicles something we must never forget.

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