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The Undertaking Hardcover – August 19, 2014

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press (August 19, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802122450
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802122452
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (51 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #251,168 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews



"To write a story that doesn't allow for much sympathy, that keeps readers at a remove from the central characters, is one of the greatest challenges an author can undertake. That Magee succeeds as well as she does is impressive. Her terse style, cross-cutting between the narratives of Katharina and Peter, generates its own tension and momentum. Although Magee stays on the surface of things, she gives those surfaces traction and textures: The face of grief, dull and yet affecting...We can't see inside Peter and Katharina, but, then again, history is partly the story of people who don't look inside themselves."—Louise Thomas, New York Times Book Review

"A common structural problem for a novel comprising two perspectives is that one tends to be more absorbing than the other. Not so here. Magee skillfully distributes equal weight, meaning equal pathos and intensity...Magee adds layer upon layer of moral complexity...Deeply impressive...Magee gives us an uneasy read, but it is hard to pull away. This is a devastating but quite stunning first novel.”—Malcolm Forbes, Minneapolis Star Tribune

"Irish journalist Magee’s first novel depicts with uncanny perception the rigors of war contrasted with life on the home front. Her compelling but realistic love story presents characters for whom most readers will feel little sympathy because of their unquestioning belief in the German cause, yet the story is all the more fascinating as related entirely from the Nazi viewpoint. Highly recommended;this is one of the most riveting accounts of love in time of war that this reviewer has ever read."—Library Journal (starred review)

“A bold, honest novel about Nazi greed and moral blankness…Magee's cool, precise tone recalls Hans Fallada's Alone in Berlin, and, like Heinrich Böll, Magee is haunted by the everyday and the small people who are inseparably part of a great ravagement.”—Helen Dunmore, The Guardian (UK)

“A powerful creation. Its denouement, which dramatizes the brutal behavior of Russian troops as they advance into a stricken Germany at the end of the war, is profoundly moving. Ms Magee’s willingness to examine the darkest elements of the conflict in a novel that still asserts the redeeming power of love is commendable. We should keep an eye out for her future work.”—The Economist

“Sweeping, powerful, epic…Magee’s writing is fast-moving, with a great visual sense, and conversations so believable that you can almost hear them.”—Kate Saunders, The Times (UK)

“A powerful and unusually intimate glimpse into lives we rarely read about in fiction—direct, shocking, unflinching.”—Frances Itani

"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 Toibin

“Absorbing… original…eloquent… a poignant reminder of the ferocious struggle for Stalingrad and its aftermath. [A]n impressive debut.”—Lucy Popescu, The Independent (UK)

"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, author of the international bestseller The Other Hand/Little Bee

“This is Audrey Magee’s first book – and a foray into a hotly contested historical event, the Battle of Stalingrad. She makes it fresh through a tight focus on the alternating experiences of Peter and Katharina, cleverly resisting the temptation to describe places and events beyond their necessarily circumscribed viewpoints.Magee makes exciting use of dialogue...the voices shine from the page...The Undertaking is 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.”—Kate Williams, The Independent (UK)

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

"Audrey Magee is a writer with great understanding for the force of history impacting on the lives of ordinary German people during World War 2. The story of a proxy marriage offers a perfect view into the urgency and magnitude of life with its doomed interior landscape of wartime necessities and moral ambiguities under Hitler's Reich. The Undertaking is a novel of wonderful subtlety and acceleration."—Hugo Hamilton

“An ambitious and atypical first novel.”—The Irish Independent

"Audrey Magee is one of the most exciting new talents to arrive on the literary scene. There is an emotional depth to her writing which elevates her to the top rank of contemporary novelists. I read her book with awe and gratitude."—Fergal Keane

About the Author

Audrey Magee worked for twelve years as a journalist and has written for, among others, The Times, The Irish Times and the Guardian. She has a Master’s degree in journalism from Dublin City University and an honors Bachelor of Arts degree in German and French from University College Dublin. She lives in Wicklow with her husband and three daughters. The Undertaking is her first novel.

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Customer Reviews

The writing was very well done and the characters well drawn out.
Joanne Harris
I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the period but also to anyone interested in more that just a simple love story.
Frances Hennessy
I found myself shocked, empathetic (yes, there were those very poignant moments), involved and mesmerized.
An Educated Consumer

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Frances Hennessy on February 14, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
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 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 widow's 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 secton which I found truly heartwrending & 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 requred 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.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Sullivan on May 2, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
The novel begins and ends with a marriage of convenience: Peter Faber marries a woman he has never met to allow him leave from the army for a ‘honeymoon’ and Katharina Spinell, his new wife, will receive a pension in the event of her husband’s death. The novel ends with the German people living alongside their Russian conquerors in their homeland of East Berlin.
It is 1941 and German army are fighting on the eastern front on Russia soil. They are raping, stealing and killing their way through the Russian land unknowingly toward what has been described as ‘one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare’; the siege of Stalingrad and what would ultimately be the beginning of the end for Germany and Hitler.
As Peter Faber struggles through Russia and its ferocious winter, back in Berlin Katharina’s life is improving thanks to her father carrying out the orders of the sinister Dr Weinart. Dr Weinart has the ear of the upper echelons in the Nazi party and one of his tasks is to recruit men to persecute the Jewish people.
While Katharina and her family enjoy a new home, the former Jewish owners having been dragged from their homes in the middle of the night, sumptuous dinners laid on by Dr Weinart, where they raise glasses of champagne in salute to the brave German soldiers who are fighting on Russian soil, Peter and his infantry are beset by freezing temperatures, bloody battles, starvation, dehydration, disease and frost bite.
Though the novel travels a road already travelled by many authors, Germany’s Russian campaign, the author Audrey Magee manages to resurface that road with sublime prose and dialogue.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By J M Kotze on April 21, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
A few individuals in war; that's all to make this book a powerfully anti-war. In a time when one had no control over what the next day would bring, there are no choices to be made. The sparse narrative is all-consuming and adds to the bleakness of the period the story is set in. Some scenes I found very disturbing, the shooting of civilians in Russia, but those scenes brought the message across. This book is superbly written.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm an avid reader of fiction set in World War II, but I hesitated to read this novel. The setup seemed contrived, and I thought this might be yet another example of an author choosing Germany during WW2 as an easy, sensationalist hook. Mea culpa, I was wrong on that count. The focus is less on the unusual romance of the lead characters than on the corruption of the souls of ordinary Germans wrought by the Nazi state.

If you've read the product description, you know this is the story of Katherina Spinell and Peter Faber, strangers who marry for reasons that are pragmatic in the wartime Nazi state. The couple unexpectedly fall in love during the few days of honeymoon leave that Peter is allowed to take from his harsh soldierly duties on the Russian front. Peter returns to the front and Katherina promises to wait for him in Berlin. From that point on, the story alternates between what's happening with Peter and his unit in Russia and Katherina and her family in Berlin.

Author Audrey Magee chooses to show us the attitudes of these and other ordinary Germans during the war. She doesn't make them sympathetic characters. They've completely bought into the Nazi propaganda that Germans are the master race and are entitled to take land and goods away from their inferiors, like Jews and Slavs.

Katherina's father is a flunky to a Nazi official and is awarded a grand apartment that has been confiscated from a Jewish family. No member of the family gives a thought to what has happened to that family; they believe this sudden access to a much higher standard of living is only their due and that the Jews have also finally gotten what they deserve.
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