Book review: At the Wolf's Table (original title: Le assaggiatrici)

By Rosella Postorino
Translated from the Italian by Leah Janeczko 
Published by Flatiron Books

Synopsis: Germany, 1943: Twenty-six-year-old Rosa Sauer’s parents are gone, and her husband Gregor is far away, fighting on the front lines of WWII. Impoverished and alone, she makes the fateful decision to leave war-torn Berlin to live with her in-laws in the countryside, thinking she’ll find refuge there. But one morning, the SS come to tell her she has been conscripted to be one of Hitler’s tasters: twice a day, she and nine other women go to his secret headquarters, the Wolf’s Lair, to eat his meals before he does. Forced to eat what might kill them, the tasters begin to divide into The Fanatics, those loyal to Hitler, and the women like Rosa who insist they aren’t Nazis, even as they risk their lives every day for Hitler’s. 

As secrets and resentments grow, this unlikely sisterhood reaches its own dramatic climax. What’s more, one of Rosa’s SS guards has become dangerously familiar, and the war is worsening outside. As the months pass, it becomes increasingly clear that Rosa and everyone she knows are on the wrong side of history.

How did this book end up in my hands? My best friend in Italy was reading this novel with her book group and I decided to join in from afar!

Was it a page-turner? I wasn’t frantically turning the pages because I think this is a much more subtler novel. I did however found myself more and more drawn into the lives of all the characters.

Having read the synopsis, did the book meet my expectations? Yes, it certainly did. And – on top of being entertained – I also learnt something new.

Did I like the ending? [no spoilers] The transition from the second to the third (and last) part of the book left me confused and disoriented for a few pages. I initially also thought that the ending was rushed. In hindsight, however, I appreciate the way this was done and I don’t think it would have worked in any other way.

Three words to describe it. Thought-provoking. Emotional. Gripping.

Do I like the cover? I read the Italian edition of the book and I’m not very keen on that cover. I thought I’d understand the symbolism after reading the novel but I didn’t. I like the cover of the English translation much more.

Have I read any other books by the same author? No, I haven’t. I have developed the bad habit of not reading much in my mother tongue anymore but it is something that I’d like to work on and this novel might just have been the push I needed.

Will I be recommending this book? I find books set during WWII extremely interesting as portrayals of human nature. This novel is no exception and I’d recommend it to anyone who is a keen observer of human behaviours under extraordinary circumstances. 

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