Fiction – print. Lee Boudreaux Books, 2016. 344 pgs. Purchased.
In 1944, twelve-year-old twin sisters named Pearl and Stasha Zagorski are deported to Auschwitz with their mother and grandfather. Desperate to save them, their mother seizes on the sight of triplets being led away from the cattle cars by a doctor in a white lab coat, dragging the girls out from under their grandfather’s coat and presenting them to the first guard she sees.
Their mother doesn’t know – she can’tknow – that the doctor in question is Josef Mengele, an SS officer and physician who would be known as the Angel of Death after the war. Mengele performed gruesome experiments on prisoners, particularly on twins, with zero consideration for their health, safety, or physical and emotional suffering.
I cannot recall where I first heard of Konar’s novel; there is no mention of the book on the blog where I thought the book had been favorably reviewed. I wish I could find that original review that piqued my interest in order to offer it up as a counterpoint to my own thoughts, which aren’t favorably inclined to Konar’s novel.
The story alternates between the two girls, allowing Konar to show how children can adapt to horrible situations in different ways. Stasha clings to the sweets and the promises Mengele makes her; she doesn’t know that she’s the “control” twin in Mengele’s experiments. Pearl, who is subjected to the experiments, knows better and tries to get her sister to understand, although she is careful not to push Stasha to hard.
Yet, Konar’s writing style felt out of sync with the content of her story. Her prose is very flowery and coy; her overuse of metaphors makes it difficult to understand exactly what is happening to Stasha and Pearl. The story lacks emotional authenticity; it feels fictional, even though I know its basis is historically factual.
Back in January 2011, I shared a discussion my classmates and I had with our professor, a renowned scholar of the Holocaust, on whether or not the Holocaust should be fictionalized. She was adamantly opposed, saying that authors decide “to place their characters in the time of the Holocaust because it’s intrinsically interesting and gains people’s intention”. I’ve read a number of novels set during the Holocaust since then; Konar’s novel is the first where I felt like this was 100% true.