What I'm Reading
A disturbing story about unknown victims of war.
I had never thought about Hitler's food tasters until Margot Wolk shared her experience of being one of the chosen women a few years ago. Sadly, she died shortly afterwards 2014, so a lot of her story was left untold. This novel uses the known facts to flesh out what, undoubtedly, her fears surrounding the events surrounding 'the worst part of my life.'
Ten women were selected and taken to one of Hitler's military bases in rural East Prussia. Their job was to taste his food to check if it had been poisoned. At this point of the war, 1943, things were starting to go bad for Germany, and the Nazi party faced threats from the inside as well as from the Allied Forces. The tension was high.
At the beginning when the women are first brought together, there are the normal social shuffles. Like any group there are cliques, awkward glances and squabbles as they get to know each other and find their place in the group. A bit like a school setting, it is a tad tedious but some strong characters develop and their idiosyncrasies are original and distinctive. The personalities cover the spectrum to form a likely group.
Choices are difficult during a wartime regime where survival is paramount and hangs over everyone every day. Staying alive means humiliation and indignity and is expressed in uncomfortable and vivid accuracy. Alone with her thoughts the first-person narrator struggles with Justification, guilt and the barriers she, and everyone else, puts up to protect themselves and each other.
At times this book makes unpleasant reading made even more so because it is probably very accurate. As her husband says of excrement: 'evidence that God doesn't exist.' the book is earthy and unglamorous. Challenging, well written, intense and tragically human. Highly recommended.
Published by HarperCollins on 1 August 2019 . Advanced review copy supplied by the publisher.