Published by Grove Atlantic on 8/19/2014
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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.