“Girls, you’re both drooping like flowers without water!” Frau Richter wipes a loose strand of hair from her brow. In the early morning heat, she looks a little wilted herself. “I’ll take those eggs, Katya.”
Sweat pools under my arms as I pass her my collection.
“Once these eggs are boiled, we’ll be done in this kitchen.” Frau Richter turns to my co-worker. “Minna, a few more flowers and that’ll be enough.”
Minna is carving radishes into pretty roses and plunking them into a bowl of cold water. They’ll adorn the guest salad plates later in the day. She peers up at Frau Richter and me.
“I wish I was a radish soaking in some cool water right now.”
“Now that’s an idea. A very good one. Minna and Katya, why don’t the two of you go out to the Baltic? You girls need a break. Only a few breeders are expected for dinner today. In this heat, they won’t be coming to exercise any horses.” The Richter estate breeds and boards Trakenhner horses, East Prussia’s pride and joy.
Frau Richter puts an arm around each of us. “The sea will do you good.” She squeezes my shoulder. You’re young. You shouldn’t be serving others all the time. Serve yourselves for a change.”
Minna, a Jewish girl, and Katya, a Russian-born girl, work on the Richter’s horse estate as servant girls in the summer of 1937. When both girls accompany the Richtler boys, Helmut, who wants to be an SS officer, and David, a shy boy who just wants to take care of the horses, on a trip to the Baltic, their carefree lives change forever. Minna suddenly decides to leave for Austria, and David and Katya begin a tentative romance. As the summer progresses, Helmut begins a new relationship with Gretchen, another servant girl, and rises further within the ranks of the Hitler Youth. David and Katya’s romance is hindered when she discovers that David has epilepsy and this must be kept a secret, because under the new Nazi Nuremberg Laws, David must submit to forced sterilization.
Readers of Tainted Amber are swept into the world of pre-World War II Germany and the effects the Nazis had on all parts of Russia, even East Prussia that is so far away from Berlin. As the Nazis intensify their hold on Germany, the day-to-day life of the inhabitants of the Richter horse estate change forever. The plot of this novel moves swiftly, and there is enough mystery to keep the reader intrigued. What happened to Minna at the Baltic Sea? Why did she leave for Austria? Will David’s secret be found out?
I recommend Tainted Amber to readers who enjoy historical fiction, particularly that of pre-World War II Germany, and romantic stories. The interplay between the Nuremberg Laws of the Nazis and their effect on the romance between David and Katya is compelling and will make readers want to know whether the couple will ultimately end up together.
Sarah Wethered was a teacher-librarian at New Westminster Secondary School for 20 years before being seconded to be president of the New Westminster Teachers’ Association. She currently lives in New Westminster, British Columbia.