Feel like reading an Italian book that is not about Italy?
I have been recommending quite a few Italian books and books about Italy in this blog but I have realized this is the first time I am writing about an Italian book that has nothing to do with Italy.
I have been thinking a while before writing this post because I was not sure whether I should include this book in my selection, mainly because I thought that the fact that it is not set in Italy or doesn’t focus on Italian culture could make it uninteresting for you.
But then I thought that this book has been written by a very talented contemporary Italian writer and has been part of the Italian literary scene in the past couple of years, so I decided it was worth including it in this section of my blog.
As I always do with the books I recommend here, I made sure to pick a book that has an English translation as well, which is something that allows people who are interested in Italian literature but do not have a strong command of the Italian language to still be able to enjoy it.
The book I am talking about is Le assaggiatrici by Rosella Postorino, which you can find in English as ‘At The Wolf’s Table’, published by Flatiron Books. It was first published in Italian in 2018 and immediately had a huge success, winning the Premio Campiello, a prize awarded to contemporary Italian writers.
I have decided to read this book mainly for its plot, which I found very intriguing. In fact, the novel tells the story of a group of women who, in Nazi Germany, are hired to taste the food for Hitler to avoid him being poisoned.
The book is inspired by the real story of Margot Wölk, who during World War II was forced to go daily to Hitler’s headquarters and be part of a group of women who tasted the food that was prepared for the Führer. Rosella Postorino said that she was so fascinated by this story, when she read it in the news, that she had to write a book about it.
The main character of the book is Rosa Sauer, a young lady from Berlin who has moved to Poland to stay with her parents-in-law while her husband is at war. The novel begins with her sitting in front of a delicious meal. She is terribly hungry but she is also worried that, not being used to such a big amount of food, she won’t keep it in her stomach: however, she has to do it because it is her job. More than that, she has no choice, she is forced to do it.
Rosa Sauer is the narrator and tells the story of a group of women who every day are taken to Hitler’s headquarters and spend their day eating the food destined to the Führer and waiting for something to happen, haunted by the fear of dying because of food poisoning. Some sort of strange sisterhood begins to form among some of the ladies and their personal stories – and that of Rosa in particular – are told.
I have found this book really interesting and definitely unique in its intent. The story is told by an old Rosa and I have especially liked the fact that Rosa’s character is not perfect, she has a lot of flaws and behaves in a very contradictory way, which is something you can expect from people living in such a difficult time, and this makes the character very human.
The writer herself, speaking about her character, says: “We cannot ask everyone to be a hero, and I wanted to tell the story of an ordinary woman” and this is something I have really appreciated because history is made by heroes and by ordinary people alike. Some critics say it is very difficult to empathize with Rosa but I strongly believe the writer did this on purpose.
I can’t say that this is one of the best books I have read, sometimes it is a bit slow and some characters could have been developed better, in my opinion, but I still think it is worth reading, especially to reflect on a very dark moment of our common history and on the effect that war has on the lives of common people.
I recommend it to you if you are interested in reading a unique story and in keeping up to date with the work of contemporary Italian writers.
By the way, what is the latest Italian book you have read?
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If you sign up to Giorno dopo giorno, you will receive an email every other day for 365 days. Each email will contain a prompt, a little exercise, something to watch, read, listen to, or something that will gently force you to practice your Italian every day, making it part of your daily routine.