Avon Books UK|3 May 2018|400 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*
It’s 1943 and Hitler’s Germany is a terrifying place to be.
But Magda Ritter’s duty is the most dangerous of all…
Assigned to The Berghof, Hitler’s mountain retreat, she must serve the Reich by becoming the Führer’s ‘Taster’ – a woman who checks his food for poison. Magda can see no way out of this hellish existence until she meets Karl, an SS officer who has formed an underground resistance group within Hitler’s inner circle.
As their forbidden love grows, Magda and Karl see an opportunity to stop the atrocities of the madman leading their country. But in doing so, they risk their lives, their families and, above all, a love unlike either of them have ever known…
After I came to the end of Her Hidden Life I was left feeling there was something missing, something not quite right about it. I liked the basic premise of the book, written from the point of view of one of the tasters of Adolf Hitler’s food and the light it throws on the Second World War from the Germans’ viewpoint. The general public were kept unaware of the atrocities that the Reich carried out by the propaganda perpetrated by Joseph Goebbels.
But I felt as though I was distanced from it – there is a lot of ‘telling’, of recounting what happened. It is fiction, not fact, although it is based on the life of one of the fifteen women who tasted Hitler’s food – and that part is fascinating. Magda is an amazing character. But maybe that is part of my problem with the book – she is so amazing, beautiful, intelligent, resourceful, with a will and determination that carries her through all the difficulties and dangers that are thrown at her. And there is so much danger. She falls in love with Karl, a handsome SS officer, who makes her heart flutter – and despite what the blurb states their love is not forbidden – when Hitler realises they are in love he insists they marry and not only that, he is present at the ceremony and presents them with silver wedding rings, inscribed inside with his name.
Anderson’s descriptive writing is good especially when he is describing scenes at Hitler’s mountain retreat, the Berghof, at his bunker in Berlin and at the Wolf’s Lair, his military headquarters. The scenes in Berlin during the Allies bombing raid and Magda’s imprisonment in the women’s concentration camp at Bromberg-Ost are particularly dramatic and horrific. I liked his portrait of Hitler, showing his charismatic side and the hold he exerted over people.I know almost nothing about Eva Braun, and liked the picture Anderson drew, but was surprised at Eva’s friendship with Magda and the access that Magda had to both Hitler and Eva. There were many assassination attempts that failed or weren’t carried out and there have been speculations about how he died and who killed him – but I can’t accept Anderson’s fictional version of who killed Adolf Hitler, even though it was foreshadowed throughout the book.
I realise now that it is the fictional elements of Her Hidden Life that bother me. In his Author’s Note, Anderson explains that the idea for writing this novel came from the story of Margot Woelk, one of Hitler’s tasters. She had kept that fact a secret until she was ninety five. It is not an account of her life but several scenes are based on her experiences, although Anderson doesn’t specify which are factual. He relied on many sources, some of which differed, and states that he has made every attempt to marry fiction with history,
Overall, I did enjoy aspects of this book and am glad I read it, even though I think I would prefer a factual account rather than fiction revolving around a romantic love story that had, to my mind, a fairy tale ending.
My thanks to Avon Books for a review copy via NetGalley.