Book review – The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

It is the 1940s, and Peter Faber is a German soldier on the front, getting married to Katharina, a young girl he has never met. He marries her to qualify for a few weeks’ honeymoon leave; she marries him for security and the possibility of a widow’s pension if he dies. But while Peter is on honeymoon leave, he falls in love with Katharina, and she is pregnant by the time he returns to the war.

underThe book alternates points of view between the two main protagonists, and while Peter’s situation on the front deteriorates, Katharina benefits from her father’s Nazi connections…

This book absolutely blew me away. It is brutal, unrelenting and often makes for uncomfortable reading as you find yourself sympathising with the lovers – despite their awful prejudices and beliefs. The hypocrisy of the characters is sometimes startling, and Katharina’s father is particularly unpleasant, and some of the acts in the book of her parents are bleak and shocking.

This is not a light read – although it is a very easy one. Lots of the action takes place in Russia as we follow Peter and his fellow soldiers. While this usually wouldn’t be my kind of thing, Magee makes it fascinating with a great deal of dialogue between the characters, who say a lot in few words. It is a short book and only took me a few days to read, but I could read it again straight away as I found it so shockingly brilliant.

I loved this book and I think the author was brave to offer the points of view of the Nazi characters and she did it brilliantly – making them horrible and yet human. It isn’t for the faint-hearted, and it makes for very uncomfortable reading at times, But this story will stay with me for a long time, and I will definitely read it again in the future. Highly recommended.

My rating: 10 out of 10

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