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The Undertaking [Kindle Edition]

Audrey Magee
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A soldier on the Russian Front marries a photograph of a woman he has never met. Hundreds of miles away in Berlin, the woman marries a photograph of the soldier. It is a contract of business rather than love. When the newlywed strangers finally meet, however, passion blossoms and they begin to imagine a life together under the bright promise of Nazi Germany. But as the tide of war turns and Allied enemies come ever closer, the couple find themselves facing the terrible consequences of being ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt...

Product Description


Sweeping, powerful, epic --The Times

Brutal but brilliant... Full of heart-pounding suspense... Magee offers an insight both into the deprivation experienced by ordinary soldiers and the excesses of those in power... An impressive, even stunning debut' --Sunday Times (Ireland)

An engaging and beautifully written novel, with an emotional resonance that remains long after you've closed the book. It succeeds in doing what only the best historical novels can do - making the past feel present --Independent

A novel made all the more harrowing by its extreme readability --Observer

A violent, elegant, unsentimental journey through hell and halfway back. This is an outstanding novel by a writer of huge talent and unusual candour. --Chris Cleave

The Undertaking is written with sympathy and skill. The narrative is tense and engaging, filled with complex undertones, impelled by an urgency and a deep involvement with the characters. --Colm Tóibín

A bold and unsettling feat of empathy, all the more daring for its taut, beautifully understated style --A.D. Miller

A bold and unsettling feat of empathy, all the more daring for its taut, beautifully understated style --A.D Miller

I read her book with awe -- Fergal Keane

Justifies all the hype --The Scotsman


‘The Undertaking is immensely readable ... Magee offers an insight into the deprivations of ordinary combatants as well as exploring the excesses of those in power. It’s an impressive debut.’ (The Independent)

Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 448 KB
  • Print Length: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (109 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #5,918 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly good 17 April 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I'm not sure that it would be accurate to describe Audrey Magee's `The Undertaking' as a story, maybe it's more `theme', tracing the descent of the soul in two connected people, one on the front line, one on the home front, into a kind of hell that they could not have imagined when they started out as, respectively, a village schoolmaster and a bank clerk. The choice of Stalingrad for Peter, and east Berlin when captured by the Russians for Katharina, could not have been bettered.

The writing is spare, even bleak, but that suits the circumstances. The fact that the dialogue is not quite realistic must be deliberate, and seems to give the narration a certain distance from reality. But this is wholly effective, because Nazi Germany would have seemed impossible to us if we hadn't known that it happened; so too with the terrible fighting and cruel winter of Stalingrad in 1942, and again when the Russians vented their lust in Berlin in 1945. The style of writing suits those horrendous events perfectly.

`The Undertaking', not an easy or comfortable read, is thoroughly recommended.
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20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Bleak and brutal 25 Aug. 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
The literature of war is written by the victors. Later, the victims, and eventually, the vanquished. There is a space in which to explore how ordinary housewives, everyday soldiers and those who conform to socially accepted norms of civilisation behave in times of conflict. Do they gradually succumb to an erosion of those values, becoming cruel and cynical in order to survive? If so, what do they still hold dear?

This is a story of WWII from two German characters’ perspectives. At first they are strangers, then lovers, then talismanic memories.
Soldier Peter Faber weds a woman’s photograph in the bitter cold of the Eastern Front. Katharina performs the same ceremony with Peter’s picture in Berlin. The undertaking confers favours on both. Peter gets three weeks’ leave from the German army, Katharina gains a soldier husband (and his pension). Yet when they meet in person, their mutual attraction surprises them.

Katharina’s family has connections. Sheltered by powerful friends in the Führer’s inner circle, Peter is co-opted to the cause. It doesn’t take much. Two weeks into his marriage and he’s smashing down doors to drag Jewish children into cattle trucks.

The story is bleak and brutal. Peter’s return to the hopeless advance on Stalingrad through a Russian winter is contrasted with the selfish opportunism and weakness of Katharina’s own family as they enjoy the privileges of Berlin’s protection. Until even that is stripped away.

This is a harsh, grim tale of the horrors of war. The use of dialogue places the reader in the heads of the characters most effectively. But sometimes, that’s the last place you want to be.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Undertaking 6 Sept. 2014
By Kat
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Finding books told from the perspective of a German man or woman during World War II is quite rare – both in fiction and non-fiction, but I’ve noticed several of them emerging over the last few years. I can imagine various reasons why these subjects weren’t written about, but it is a shame because it’s a subject with so much potential – and Audrey Magee has chosen a story that tells it from two perspectives – Peter and Katharina.

Peter is a soldier on the Eastern front when he decides to marry Katharina before they have even met in order to take honeymoon leave to Berlin. Katharina has decided to marry under the pressure of her parents so she will receive a pension if her husband is killed. Their romance when they do finally meet is rather awkward – their time together is limited and they are in Katharina’s parents’ house. This is perhaps the only part of The Undertaking that didn’t really work for me – they met so briefly, for a marriage of convenience and fell madly in love – I wasn’t completely convinced personally, but in the plot it’s also understandable – conflict abounds.

The vast majority of the book is spent with Peter and Katharina being apart – Peter returns to the grim eastern front at Stalingrad, and Katharina remains in Germany with her disapproving parents. The relationship is maintained through letters, and also through their own longing for each other, which both energises and sinks them simultaneously.
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40 of 44 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Read 22 Feb. 2014
I admit to an obsession with WW11 related books and The Undertaking is an excellent addition to the list of books I've read relating to the period. For a first book it's a superb & original effort and I was in its grip from the first page to the very last word.
Set in 1941 as the invasion of Russia rolls forward, Peter Faber is a young German soldier craving some home leave. He selects a Berlin woman, Katharina Spiller, from a marriage bureau and they proceed to marry by proxy. He gets his three weeks home leave and she gets the "status" of married woman, the promise of a widows' pension should he be killed & the prospect of fulfilling her duty to Hitler & producing children for the Reich. Important considerations for a young woman in the Germany of the time!
Most of the book is written as dialogue and it moves along at a lively pace - I really liked this style of writing & I liked that the author resisted, what must have been a temptaion, to fill in background details. The sparseness of the text is for me the defining feature of this book.
There is much great writing in this book but I will single out just one particular scene which I found truly heartwrenching & especially memorable as an example - Katharina's brother has been on sick leave with clearly post traumatic stress but the military command insist he is fit to return to the fighting. Katharina & her parents are obliged to deliver him to the train for the Russian front, he is clearly barely conscious & has no idea where he is or where he is going. They have to leave him in the carriage with his gear and walk away knowing he is going to his death - an amazing piece of writing IMO.
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the period but also to anyone interested in more that just a simple love story & I really hope someone makes a movie version.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent read. Interesting topic - ordinary Germans during wartime...
Excellent read. Interesting topic - ordinary Germans during wartime Germany and how they perceived the purpose of the war. Read more
Published 8 days ago by Gretta Vaughan
5.0 out of 5 stars The horrors of war.
An excellent book that clearly portrays the awful horror of war and man's inhumanity to man.The powerful love between a man & a woman that survived incredible... Read more
Published 9 days ago by elizabeth cobbe
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended.
Completely gripping. Highly recommended.
Published 13 days ago by Miss J C Marlow
2.0 out of 5 stars Two Stars
A just ok book.
Published 15 days ago by jill rossiter
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent!
Thoroughly enjoyed this riveting book. The atmosphere and historical facts were superbly written, the author drew you in until you couldn't put the book down. Read more
Published 18 days ago by Sue
5.0 out of 5 stars HARD-HITTING AND EMOTIVE
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee was short-listed for the Bailey Women's Prize for Fiction and what an excellent candidate it turned out to be. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Gloria
5.0 out of 5 stars A true and honest account
Audrey Magee has written a truly remarkable book with a brutal honesty that favours no one. I believe this book should be on the reading list of every school.
Published 1 month ago by Mrs T A Scutt
3.0 out of 5 stars Thought provoking book
An interesting and thought provoking book. Too much happened in the last chapter though. It could have been better balanced with the important themes of the end of the book being... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Katy M
4.0 out of 5 stars compelling read
This book in not easy to read ,it,s set in Germany in WII ,around a couple who married for other reasons apart from love .( Don. Read more
Published 1 month ago by sleep
4.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing
This is almost a masterclass in story telling. Effecting, bleak and convincing.
Published 1 month ago by Rainier
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