the undertaking audrey magee

The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

The Undertaking by Audrey MageeThe Undertaking by Audrey Magee
Published by Grove Atlantic on 8/19/2014
Source: Publisher
Pages: 304
Buy from IndieBound


In a desperate attempt to earn leave from WWII’s Eastern front, German soldier Peter Faber chooses to marry Katharina Spinell based only on her photograph. Though they are married on opposite ends of the continent, within weeks Peter has earned ten days of honeymoon leave to spend with Katharina in Berlin. Surprisingly, ten days proves long enough for the pair to develop a passionate love too soon torn apart when Peter is required to return to Russia. In Peter’s absence, Katharina and her parents learn both the risks and benefits of inching close to the upper ranks of the Nazi Party hierarchy.

Just as it starts, with duplicate wedding ceremonies, The Undertaking is a novel told in parallels. Magee peers into Katharina’s increasingly lush lifestyle, furnished by her father’s partnership with a high ranking Nazi officer, while Peter struggles to survive under mounting trials in Russia. Magee’s sharp, simple dialogue and pointed prose keeps the story moving at a clipping pace that grows increasingly tense as the couple’s lives diverge.

Magee’s characters walk a fine line between perpetrator and victim, often stepping into the shoes of both. The Undertaking‘s delicate balance is able to capture the true trials of war and challenges of history, making Audrey Magee more than deserving of attention and praise.


  • I’ve got this waiting on my Kindle waiting to be read. I began it a few times, but the dialogue rich pages put me off those particular times (it felt like a novel I needed to be in the right place to read.)

    • It’s definitely dialogue heavy and I could see how it takes the right mood, but once you get into it it’s very hard to put down.

  • Silver’s Reviews

    This sounds like a book I would like. The cover is amazing.

    I hadn’t heard of this book until I saw it on your blog the other day.

    Wonderful review.



    • It’s a great cover, isn’t it? I couldn’t resist when I saw it at BEA.

      • Silver’s Reviews

        I want to go where you go at the BEA. :)

        I didn’t even see this book. Yes…the cover is fantastic.


  • Wesley

    This is waiting for me at the library right this minute!

  • Just finished this very moving book last night . . . no wonder it was shortlisted for the Baileys Prize. I found the dialogue stilted at times, but the last scene–wow!

    • The ending was pretty crushing, but exactly how it should have ended. I feel like I haven’t heard much about this book, but I was so impressed!

  • This sounds fantastic! I love me some WWII historical fiction, and this sounds like a really unique perspective.

    • It really is. I feel like you don’t often see the blurry gray area that she writes about and it’s really interesting to read.

  • Words for Worms

    This sounds really good, though it might be the sort of thing I’d need a rather large box of tissues to enjoy…

  • This book came to my attention when I saw that it was shortlisted for the Baileys Women’s Prize earlier this year. Great review, will definitely have to bump it up my want-to-read list now :)


    It’s been pretty well promoted in the UK. Think I had it labelled as a “wrong side of the tracks/love story” thing, which SO isn’t me, but your review’s made me think I’d actually rather enjoy it….Btw, are you going to review We Are Not Ourselves?Would love your take on it.

    • There’s definitely much more to the story than that. The romance is really, really minimal (otherwise, I probably would have put it down) and it’s much more focused on morality in war.
      I’m planning on a review of We Are Not Ourselves for Tuesday (spoiler alert: I didn’t love it – eek)

  • Wow, this sounds like a very interesting, thought-provoking story!

  • Pingback: Six Books to Read if You Loved All the Light We Cannot See()