Tag Archives: V. S. Alexander

Author brews an unexpected antidote for a poisoned world

The Taster, by V. S. Alexander. Kensington Books. 336 pages. Trade paperback $15.95.

Here is a totally gripping and credible imagining of how a young German woman was affected by the building chaos and cruelty during the late stages of Hitler’s rule. It gains its power through the very special perspective of its main character, who is also the narrator. In 1943, Magda Ritter leaves her parents’ endangered Berlin home seeking employment in a part of Germany less in the path of the war. Though she finds Hitler’s leadership abominable, she takes a position at his Berghof mountain retreat, and she mostly keeps her thoughts to herself. 

Her main job is to be a food taster, one of several protecting the despicable Führer from attempts on his life. Magda learns how to recognize poisons and how to control her fear of dying to save the beast. She makes friends and some enemies. In a place like this, dominated by true believers, its important to play along with the party line and not show your true thoughts or feelings. Indeed, your life depends on living a lie.

Despite her caution, Magda will find some people who share her views and are alarmed at Hitler’s menacing actions which are taking Germany in a nightmarish direction. Most notably, she falls in love with Karl, an SS officer, who belongs to a growing cadre of conspirators against the Reich. At first, they keep their relationship secretive; later, they can be more open about it – especially when Hitler seems to sponsor their relationship and urges them to have many children for the Reich.

Magda is befriended by Eva Braun, Hitler’s lady friend, which is a mixed blessing as the intelligent, attractive, and otherwise perceptive woman is clearly in thrall to the master deceiver. Nonetheless, Eva exhibits generosity and compassion – at least in Mr. Alexander’s version.

Alexander

Hitler stays on the move to make his location unpredictable. He travels among various retreats that serve as temporary headquarters. A large entourage travels with him, and the more and more indispensable Magda is among the group. Each of these places has a distinct personality. . . .

To enjoy the entire review, as it appears in the February 1, 2018 Naples  Florida Weekly as well as in the Charlotte County edition, click here:  Florida Weekly – The Taster

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Abuse in the name of redemption shapes the lives of Irish lassies

The Magdalen Girls, by V. S. Alexander. Kensington. 304 pages. Trade paperback $15.00.

Set near Dublin in the 1960s, this unusual novel carefully constructs a powerful vision of religiosity run amok. Its focus is two teenage girls who are assigned to the Magdalen Laundries at The Sisters of the Holy Redemption Convent. Their parents have assigned their care to the convent, believing that its discipline and Spartan living conditions will bring the young women to faith, responsibility, and eventually to productive, upright lives. That’s the positive spin on the parents’ motives, which readers will find far less noble. themagdalengirls

In fact, the institution is a prison and slave labor operation, all in the name of Jesus and his Father.

Both Nora Craven and Teagan Tiernan are in their mid-teens. Their home lives are disastrous: their parents strongly judgmental and unloving, their fathers done in by drinking. Both seek to escape, but as children have no standing. Their relationships to the Catholic church are unfulfilling, but it is the Catholic church, or its institutions, that will dominate their lives.

Both end up in the Magdalen Laundry at the convent, both spend time in confinement there. Both, over the course of a year, are offered poor food, strenuous labor, and only the hope that conformity to a harsh, identity-crushing routine – or escape – will bring them a viable future. The fact that they have been turned over to the authority of Sister Anne, the Mother Superior, predicts a gloomy fate, as this woman is on the edge of a psychotic breakdown.

Alexander

Alexander

In essence, these youngsters are abandoned by their parents. As Magdalens, they are objects of community scorn. Teagan, moreover, is betrayed by the leaders of her neighborhood church – accused and convicted of immoral behavior without any legal proceedings or any opportunity to defend herself. Priestly misconduct goes on unchallenged.

In the view of Sister Anne, the girls’ sinful natures must be beaten out of them. This woman is addicted to slicing her arms with a sharp blade. Her action is at once an act of faith, a punishment, and a deeply buried recognition that her abuses of power are worse than anything the Magdalen girls do.

It’s the Middle Ages brought to the later 20th century. . . .

To read the entire review, as it appears in the January 11, 2017 Fort Myers Florida Weekly and the January 12 Naples, Bonita Springs, Punta Gorda / Port Charlotte, and Palm Beach editions, click here: Florida Weekly – The Magdalen Girls

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