The Undertaking Hardcover – 6 Feb 2014
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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) --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Audio CD.See all Product Description
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
Apart from this spark of hope, "The Undertaking" pulls no punches when it comes to the portrayal of war, as the pair begin to realise, in their very different situations, that German soldiers are not invincible against an inferior foe, the Russians are not the useless, cowardly peasants they have been led to expect, and the war will not be a rapidly won victory. It takes a while for the penny to drop with two main characters who are portrayed in a realistic rather than flattering and heroic light. Without any compunction, Katharina joins her callous parents in occupying a luxurious flat from which a Jewish family has been driven; on his "honeymoon", Faber takes part without question in the nocturnal eviction of Jews organised by the sinister fixer Doctor Reinart and he persists in believing a fellow soldier is a communist of doubtful loyalty because he is Russian - unable to grasp the tragedy that, as a Russian born in German territory, the poor man belongs nowhere.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A couple evenings ago I finished reading The Undertaking by Audrey Magee. It's unusual for a book written in English as it is the story of a German couple who marry 'for the... Read morePublished 2 months ago by Dianne Trimble
The trials and tribulations for those fighting on the Russian Front during WW2 and what was happening back in Germany. Read morePublished 5 months ago by Book chatter
Loved it! The story was really good and very interesting-told with a sparcity of words that seemed to paint an incredible detail!Published 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
Dialogue is, for me, everything. If dialogue is wooden and stiff, then the characters don't come to life. If all the dialogue is the same, then the characters are all the same. Read morePublished 9 months ago by Amazon Customer
A brilliant novel which exposed the brutalities of the war between Germany and Russia and the sadness and tragedies caused by wars..Published 10 months ago by yorkshirecatuk
I see what the author was trying to do but in my opinion she failed. Although I enjoyed the sparse, economical writing her characters were (intentionally) thin, one dimensional and... Read morePublished 10 months ago by mawdlin
Every now and then a book comes along that gets under your skin and literally knocks you off your size sixes. Read morePublished 11 months ago by Nicola at Literary Ramblings etc