Magda Ritter is a young woman struggling to survive in Berlin at the end of WWII. Forced to leave the city for the safety of the countryside, Magda is soon thrust into even more dangerous circumstances when she is selected to work as a food taster at one of Hitler’s country homes. Told through Magda’s eyes, this is a story of survival, love and hope during one of history’s darkest events.
When I first picked up “The Taster” I didn’t realize that this was based on a true story. Although Magda Ritter is a fictional character, her story is partially based upon the account provided by Margaret Wolk, one of Hitler’s food tasters who chose to share her story with the world in the late 2000s. Considering the countless atrocities committed by the Nazis, I supposed I shouldn’t have been surprised that Hitler would find nothing wrong with needlessly putting the lives of his staff at risk by employing food tasters.
In terms of the plot itself I felt that the author did an incredible job of depicting the horrors of the Nazi regime while also highlighting the fact that not all Germans were in favor of those in power. The fact that Magda and her family are not party members is mentioned multiple times and in fact, her father is portrayed as being vehemently against Hitler. The atmosphere of fear and mistrust is pervasive everywhere. Magda’s mother at one point cautions her father against making certain comments. More than once Magda is told that certain things should never be questioned or spoken off. The SS and the Gestapo are unsurprisingly portrayed as terrifying. Once Magda and her husband become involved in conspiracies against Hitler and his regime the atmosphere becomes even darker. All this serves to enforce the fact that the Nazis didn’t have the support of the entire country and kept power through a mix of fear and intimidation. Not even their own people were safe from reprisals if they stepped out of line.
While there are definitely many difficult and even horrifying moments in “The Taster”, I felt that at its core this was a story about love and hope even in the darkest of times. Magda manages to find the love of her life and it is only thanks to her love for her husband that she is able to keep going when she is sent to a forced labor camp, when her parents are killed and while surviving the fall of Berlin. And even when she is at her lowest Magda is able to find other kind and compassionate people who help her to survive. Though I often got chills while reading “The Taster”, I was warmed to read about the people who helped Magda, because it served as a reminder that it is always possible to find good people even when it seems incredibly unlikely.
Overall, I give this book a 5 out of 5. I think it’s incredibly important to remember how the actions of a tyrant can bring suffering to millions of people and this book does a great show casing that.