V.S. Alexander, Kensington Books, 2018, $15.95, pb, 315 pp 9781496712271
When fiery destruction is predicted for Berlin, 25-year-old Magda Ritter is sent to live with relatives in Berchtesgaden. Unable to find work, she is chided by her aunt. “Every citizen must be productive. You should be ashamed and so should your parents for raising such a worthless girl.”
She warily accepts her only job offer: an undisclosed position with the Party. I wasn’t a fortune-teller, but I wondered how dire my circumstances might become as a worker in the Reich. Her intuition serves her well, for her job is to taste food at The Berghof, Hitler’s sumptuous “mountain court,” where the cook explains, “Your body is offered in sacrifice to the Reich in case the food is poisoned.”
When Hitler’s trusted officer, Captain Karl Weber, befriends Magda, she knows she must rely on that intuition, because everything she sees and hears now begins to carry treacherous double meanings as Weber’s attentions threaten to lead her into love—and into the Resistance.
Alexander’s well-researched fictional account of Hitler’s final days is made intimate by his brilliant choice of a food taster as the first-person narrator. Necessarily a trusted employee, Magda is able to toss off insightful descriptions of Eva Braun and the Führer and provide glimpses of the inner workings of the Party from the point of view of a servant who must risk her own life to protect that of a man she detests.
A lesser storyteller might have allowed such a conflicted narrator to weep and wail, but Alexander’s Magda looks into the maw of the Reich and reports atrocities without flinching, depicting her own suffering and heroism without hyperbole. Magda allows the reader to examine her own heinous acts, asking only that “you will not judge me as harshly as I have judged myself.”
Originally published in Historical Novels Review Issue 83, February 2018.
Citation: Kightlinger, Rebecca. "The Taster" Historical Novels Review 83 (Feb 2018) 39.
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