Book review: Surviving the Angel of Death: The Story of a Mengele Twin in Auschwitz – Eva Mozes Kor (memoir, ***)

It’s hard to know how to review a book as harrowing as this. Shorter than your average history book and constructed in an intentionally straightforward manner, in order to appeal to young adults, Surviving the Angel of Death is nonetheless tough-going. I read it in a single sitting simply because I knew if I put it down I’d never pluck up the courage to pick it up again.

Eva Mozes Kor and her twin sister, 10 at the time they entered Auschwitz, were given ‘special treatment’ in the concentration camp – although the privilege of being allowed to wear their own clothing was offset by the medical experiments to which they were subjected by Josef Mengele. Eva was injected with various diseases, with the intent that when she died, her sister would also be killed, in order to perform autopsies to compare and contrast the state of their internal organs. The fact that the two of them survived the camp is a true testament to Eva’s force of will.

Perhaps the book’s most terrifying description is of a moment frequently glossed over by Holocaust literature: the day the Nazi guards fled the camp. The ensuing chaos, far from a triumphant moment of freedom, was characterised by hysteria among the prisoners, mass shootings (as the Nazis returned, sporadically, to ‘get rid of the evidence’) and starving people dying tragically from sudden over-eating.

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Book review: Fangirl – Rainbow Rowell (YA fiction, ***)

Thoughtful characterisation lifts Fangirl’s tale of first-year college insecurities above the usual YA fare. Yes, our bookish protagonist Cath fits into the done-to-death mould of brunette/glasses/cardigan. And, yes, her inevitable first love is absurdly perfect. But there’s enough original detail and truthful observation in Fangirl to make it a memorable read.

I loved Cath’s tough-as-nails (with a heart-of-gold) roommate, Reagan. I loved Cath’s Labrador puppy of a love interest, Levi. I loved the portrayal of first romantic fumblings (where every twang of emotion is felt in the stomach, not in the heart). I loved the unvarnished look at freshman year: the drinking and the parties, but also the anxiety and homesickness.

Not since Prep have I read a book that captures teenage insecurities so vividly. Cath’s spiralling fear of visiting her dorm’s dining hall brought back my own memories of avoiding shared kitchens (because you’d have to, like, talk to people). Here’s to every introvert who sat alone in their dorm room and ate protein bars to avoid human interaction!

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