Affinity Konar’s new novel, Mischling (Sept.), her debut with Little, Brown, follows what was a years-long writing journey. She says, “I’ve been working on it for a very long time—there were years when I was just taking notes. The pain and suffering that I showed was a difficult problem for me to work out.” But work it out she did, in ethereal prose that tells the story of twins, Stasha and Pearl, who fall under the care of the infamous Dr. Josef Mengele in Auschwitz. How does one manage to foster hope in a situation like the concentration camps? “The aspect of hope was very deliberate,” Konar says. “I wanted to acknowledge the possibility of a beautiful world, even though we don’t have one today. Hope was a big part of how they coped.”
Konar worked on at least two other ideas for novels during the time she was writing Mischling, and she spent a lot of time rewriting. “I threw out Part Two three times,” she says. “I’m a slow writer. There was one version that I actually liked, but I wasn’t confident I could pull it off.” She adds, “I was working on a couple other books while I was working on this one. But the results were always flat. I was always dreaming of this one. It seemed like an impossible dream.”
She grew up listening to stories about WWII from her grandfather, and watching a lot of movies and documentaries with him. “I really did not have a lot of faith that this novel would ever be completed. It has been such a personal thing for me,” she says. He served in the Pacific, so she sometimes felt as though it was not her place to talk about the Holocaust. “Who am I to contribute to this conversation? I absorbed the sort of warning that this story is best left to people who have the experience to tell it. But there is always going to be something to learn from it. I feel like the pain from it is so endless that the stories should be endless, too.”
Even though the pain from this period of history may seem endless, Konar’s prose allows a tiny glimpse into a world where some good might come out of it.
Konar will sign galleys at Table 6 in the Autographing Area, 10–10:30 a.m.
This article appeared in the May 12, 2016 edition of PW BEA Show Daily.