Writing Alumna Affinity Konar Publishes Novel to Strong Reviews

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Writing alumna Affinity Konar ’08 has published her second novel, Mischling, to strong reviews.

The novel (Lee Boudreaux Books) takes place in Auschwitz and other parts of Poland and centers on twin sisters—Pearl and Stasha—who, while imprisoned at the concentration camp, undergo experiments by Josef Mengele, a notorious Auschwitz physician.

Mischling follows Konar’s debut novel from 2011, The Illustrated Version of Things, and was named an Amazon Best Book of the Month and a Barnes & Noble Discover Pick and was called a must-read by publications including BuzzFeed and Entertainment Weekly.

The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani praised the book, writing, “For all her novel’s indebtedness to source material, Ms. Konar makes the emotional lives of her two spirited narrators piercingly real, as they recount, in alternating chapters, the harrowing story of their efforts to survive.” Ruth Franklin, writing in the New York Times Book Review, said, “Readers who allow themselves to fall under the spell of Konar’s exceptionally sensitive writing may well find the book unforgettable.”

Other outlets have called the novel “brutally beautiful” (Publishers Weekly, starred review); “[u]nflinching” (Washington Post); and “a soaring homage to the indomitability of human compassion” (Elle). “In what could be the bleakest of worlds,” O Magazine wrote, “Mischling gives us moments of transcendent hope and even beauty.”

The novel has also draw praise from Writing Program faculty members. Ben Marcus (Leaving the Sea), a full-time professor, called it “a tremendously unsettled work of art.” Rivka Galchen (Little Labors), an alumna (’06) and adjunct professor, likened reading it to “looking at the images that came back from the Hubble space telescope: it's the night sky we think we know so well, and it's something we've never seen before.”

Writing program alumni have also weighed in. Pulitzer Prize finalist and MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant” recipient Karen Russell ’06 (Swamplandia!) described Konar as an “astonishing and fearless writer”; National Book Award nominee Molly Antopol ’07 (The UnAmericans) called the book an “achingly beautiful novel that will stay with me for a long, long time.”

In a recent essay on Literary Hub, Konar wrote about the experience of writing Mischling, and about the moral and artistic complexities involved in reimagining tragedy. “How to maintain a distance, to acknowledge horror, to not possess it as so many other things were repossessed by those who suffered at Nazi hands, and yet, to attempt the portrayal?” she writes. “It is hard to say what I truly know.”

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