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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Read
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...
Published 6 months ago by Frances Hennessy

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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing.
So disappointed in this book, after reading all the gushing reviews. For me the characters were too sketchily drawn and lacking any credibility, so that I cared little what became of them. The novel's themes were all very predictable, as if the author had taken a few tried and tested story lines and attempted to rehash them, with the occasional dollop of gore or sex...
Published 22 days ago by Torres


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30 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting Read, 22 Feb 2014
This review is from: The Undertaking (Hardcover)
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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24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Gripping Debut, 12 Feb 2014
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Susie B - See all my reviews
(TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Undertaking (Hardcover)
Audrey Magee's impressive debut novel focuses on Peter Faber, a German soldier fighting at the Eastern front, who makes the decision to marry a woman he has never met in his desperation to leave the fighting for the honeymoon leave he is entitled to on his marriage. Katharina Spinell, the young woman he is to marry, considers this a marriage of convenience, knowing she will be eligible for a widow's pension should Peter be killed in action. Before the couple meet, neither Peter nor Katharina expect to be especially attracted to each other, nor to fall in love, but when they do meet in Berlin at Katharina's parents' home in the October of 1941, they soon find themselves becoming intimately involved with one another. When Peter returns to Russia and learns that Katharina is pregnant, his resolve to survive the war intensifies and this helps him to endure the tortuous conditions ahead of him, but will that resolve enable him to survive?

Meanwhile back in Berlin, Katharina, whose father becomes increasingly involved with an influential Nazi, Dr Weinart, described by her father as a man of great integrity and connections, enjoys a lifestyle that is far removed from her previous existence. However, Katharina is not blind to what is happening around her, as she witnesses the psychological breakdown of her brother, Johannes, who although suffering from intense mental stress is sent back to the front. And as time passes Katharina, who has undertaken the decision to wait for Peter, suffers from the worry of not knowing whether he is dead or alive or whether he is undergoing ordeals of which she can only imagine. And then with Germany's defeat at Stalingrad, the tide turns, and Katharina's life changes irrevocably.

Filled with dialogue which, in this instance, is used very effectively, this is a gripping and involving story where, in addition to recounting the horrendous battle at Stalingrad, the author also deftly contrasts the devastation of war at the frontline to that of the situation at the home front, cleverly showing how humanity can be undermined or even totally removed by the brutality of war. Anyone who knows anything about the Battle for Stalingrad, where the soldiers' greatest enemy was not necessarily the opposing army, but the deadly freezing conditions and extreme lack of food, will realize that parts of this novel make for uncomfortable reading, yet this is a compelling and very readable novel and, as a debut, a rather remarkable one. I shall be interested in reading more from this author in the future.

5 Stars.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An Astonishing Debut, 20 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
I normally avoid novels about the war - It was part of my childhood memories, that was enough. But this was recommended by a friend, someone whose judgement I trust. I cannot sing it's praises highly enough. It is the war indeed, but the war from the other point of view. A story which starts by the strange marriage of two people who have never met. Peter, a German soldier serving on the Russian front and Katherina a young woman living in Berlin with her parents. Staunch supporters of Hitler and his policies.Nothing is spared - even the casual loathing and fear of Jews. Subjects normally shrouded in secrecy here are facts of everyday life. As you grow increasingly interested in these lives, care about them, not surprisingly the reader feels guilty for enjoying them so easily. Audrey Magee turns our emotions on their heads with a love story against the background of Nazi Germany and the Holocaust; but thIs time from the point of view of what we believe to be the enemy. She has a wonderful talent and I await her next book with eagerness.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome and moving, 22 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
I could not put this book down. I am now puffy from weeping so it may not suit the over sensitive! This is such an unusual book telling the story of the Eastern Front by a German soldier and his new wife through an arranged distance marriage ceremony. It is so layered and sympathetic to the characters, and brutally honest too, as they struggle to live with their ideology and culture, and of course powerful self interest. The plot is carried largely by dialogue between the characters, families high and low in Berlin, and the soldiers at the front towards Stalingrad as Germany suffers defeat at the hands of the Russians. An amazing read which leaves one enlightened!
Google Audrey Magee to watch a good interview with her as she explains her thinking.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars What would I have done...?, 14 May 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
There are no spoilers in this review.

From the opening paragraphs Audrey Magee’s prose had me keen to read on.

Surprisingly Audrey Magee has only given us three hundred or so pages with this novel. I say surprising because she seems to have put so much into those pages, making every word of her prose, every sentence and paragraph have relevance – no superfluous word count filling unnecessary chapters here.

The Undertaking is fiction but it is a novel based on thoroughly researched facts and has the potential to offer the reader much to think about.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping account from the German perspective, 29 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
This is a beautifully researched book. describing the war for.a.family in Berlin, the choices they make, and the decisions of the father to support the party and how his daughter is used as a convenient pawn in their ascent into Nazi society, thus ensuring certain privileges like a nice apartment, good food, parties, all until such time as they lose their home in the.bombing and make some decisions that precipitate their fall from grace and then begins the hard survival without support as Berlin is bombed to bits, basics are scarce and ruthless Russians soldiers arrive. The narrative switches between events in Berlin and the appalling events of the Russian front where the husband of the daughter loses all his comrades and ends up surrendering just to eat, and becomes one of the 3 million Germans who end up.in Siberia, only half of whom return. the harshness of the Russian camps is briefly touched on, and then his return to Berlin ignominious. I could have read more of this story, and highly recommend The Undertaking.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Story of Heart Wrenching Endurance, 1 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
A book that doesn't hold back on the realities of war. The confusion, the starvation, the degradation, the terrors, the fighting, the injuries, the death and the deprivation. The constant questions of humanity, as to what is the point? What are we fighting for? The striving to try and survive. And the stories of those left at home for ever waiting, years of waiting. Facing the same war in a different way, but equally as scared, degraded, deprived, confused and hauntingly hungry for food and good news.
This story revolves around a German family, their story, their emotions, their hopes, their fears, their sacrifice, their tragedies, their loss. Their humanity.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunningly good, 17 April 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Hardcover)
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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4.0 out of 5 stars is good enough for her daughter, 15 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
The Undertaking starts with Peter Faber marrying Katharina Spinell one day while fighting on the Eastern front. The brilliance of the opening is that they’re not together for the wedding ceremony but are actually saying the vows to each other’s photographs. It’s a marriage that’ll help both of them, he’s doing it to get honeymoon leave and she’s hoping to guarantee a bit of security for herself for the future.

They’ve seen a few images of each other before selecting their chosen partner. Status is a big issue in these times with Katharina’s parents questioning whether this man, a teacher, is good enough for her daughter. Her mother is particular is vocal about a preference for a doctor or lawyer. They feel that when the war is won their daughter will be better provided for if she picks a man of a higher social standing.

Peter’s personal hygiene obviously leaves a lot to be desired and this book gives a good glimpse of the glory of getting a wash with hot water and the taste of a good cake. These treats are in stark constrast to the dirt and filth of daily life on the Eastern front.

Magee’s writing is very heavy on dialogue and the book is very action-packed with less description than you’d expect. This actually works better than I expected with the book providing a lot of food for the imagination. We see the sheer brutality of some of the men, with individuals being ripped from their homes to make rooms for others and women being shot in the face.

The characters have to make great sacrifices for the cause. They’re told they’re doing a great thing for their country and that it’ll all be worth it in the end. The war propaganda is that the others are doing much worse than the Germans. People worry about the potential cost of not doing what society expects and go along with their leaders almost without question.

This is a very fine debut from Audrey Magee. It’s a book that zips along at a frenetic pace with a love story set in among all the misery of war. It’s an extremely accessible book that I imnagine will have widespread appeal
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars German suffering during WW2, 19 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Undertaking (Kindle Edition)
Magee gives an excellent snapshot of German suffering during the war. All the more painful because they visited it upon themselves.
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The Undertaking
The Undertaking by Audrey Magee (Hardcover - 6 Feb 2014)
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