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The Undertaking Hardcover – 6 Feb 2014

118 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Atlantic Books (6 Feb. 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782391029
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782391029
  • Product Dimensions: 14.8 x 30.4 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (118 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 154,751 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

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

Review

‘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) --This text refers to the Audio CD edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Longchamps on 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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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By leekmuncher on 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 By Kat on 6 Sept. 2014
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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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Sept. 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
I often struggle to find good books among the huge numbers being published each month, but I struck gold with The Undertaking, the first novel by Audrey Magee. I enjoyed the gripping and unusual story, the wartime background and the compelling tale of human relationships under pressure.

Peter Faber is a German soldier fighting at the Eastern front, who takes advantage of a Nazi scheme to marry off single women left behind to soldiers serving in the war. The soldiers get three weeks honeymoon leave, and the women get a husband - very difficult to do when all the young men have been conscripted to fight on distant battlefields. Peter sees only a photograph of Katharina Spinell but decides that she will do for him, so a remote marriage service is held and back he goes to Berlin to meet his bride.

It is an awkward start to a marriage, but Peter is welcomed into his in-laws home and within a very few days the young couple seem happy enough with the arrangement. Peter's new father-in-law is well-connected with the local Nazi party and persuades Peter to go out every evening on some horrifying Nazi business, but after a year or so in Russia he seems to be unphased at having to conduct further atrocities at home.

Nazi philosophy has become second nature to the Berlin populace. The Jews "steal" their own property by hiding it from the good German people who believe they are entitled to the spoils of active anti-Semitism. Jewish families matter for little, and there is as little compassion for children as there is for their parents. Evicting Jewish families from their homes has about as much impact on the perpetrators as flushing out a nest of vermin from a nest.
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