The novel I‘m going to review won‘t reach you till next year, if you‘re not fluent in Italian. But it‘s still worth your attention, as it discusses a very intriguing topic of our near past. The title of the book has caught my eye at Milan book fair and, tempted by its predicted international success, I took one of its copies home.
Le assaggiatrici (At The Wolf‘s Table) by Rosella Postorino tells a unique story of lady food tasters of Hitler‘s everyday meals entangled with cruel episodes of WWII from the German woman‘s perspective. It is a quite sharp experience, which you have never met or sought for in other war novels. It seems much more credible, as it is based on a true story of Margot Wölk, the last living Hitler‘s food taster who decided to reveal her story only at the age of ninety-six.
Actually the author had never met her protagonist, as the latter died earlier than Postorino could reach her in Berlin but the wish to write a novel has won. Hence meet Rosa Sauer who flees Berlin where she has lost both of her parents while her husband was keeping the frontline somewhere in Russia. Rosa settles with her parents-in-law in Gross-Partsch near the clandestine Hitler‘s headquarters called the Wolf‘s Lair and is soon conscripted to become a food taster together with other nine local women.
With no choice left Rosa turns into Führer‘s associate everyday followed by fear to die of poisoning. Food tasting fragments fill in the gaps in war history, also revealing ups and downs of Hitler‘s personality, however, the more important topic in the novel is the human relations and how far you can go in order to survive.
Though ten German young ladies are of the same destiny at a deadly feast, they don‘t form a circle of allies but rather elaborate their own instinct of self-preservation. It‘s even more difficult to Rose who comes from Berlin and is a total stranger to others. Ironically the only time one girl steps in to save another, she ends up in a concentration camp due to her hidden half-Jewish nationality.
Despite the war and the Damocles sword every day hanging above the tasters’ heads, the novel demonstrates how lively desires of youth to love and to be loved never leave the air. Rose has been married just for a year when her husband volunteered to join the army and now with an official notice that her Gregor has gone missing, Rose tosses inside her body and her mind to beat her sorrow as well as her loneliness. Finally the passion for an intimacy wins when their new strict and cruel SS supervisor Ziegler places an eye on her. Rose feels betraying her husband, her in-laws, even herself, but cannot stop these secret nightly meetings at the barn, overwhelmed with fear and guilt.
With the war drawing to an end, Rose understands that no matter the circumstances she‘ll be considered to be playing on the wrong side of the history. She is lucky to escape the consequences but will it be possible for her to live on and be happy again?
Though Rose‘s story makes the novel a page-turner, it somehow loses it‘s key topic of food tasters on the way. Therefore you start feeling deceived, as you get not what you’ve expected at the beginning. Moreover, the ending turns into something from a different plot line leaving you wonder: what a heck this has to do with the rest of the story? To me, this is the weakest part in the book.
Anyway, try to eat your dinner and then wait for an hour to make sure you‘re not going to die tonight. Can‘t imagine how you‘ll be scared of a new hunger to come.