The Undertaking

The Undertaking – a book review

disclosure:  we were sent this book in exchange for an honest review.

I’ve always had a fascination with stories from the Second World War.  Right from first read Anne Frank’s diary as a child.  When I was given a list of recently published books from Atlantic Books to pick from, I was immediately drawn to the fictional story The Undertaking by Audrey Magee.

The Undertaking

The Undertaking was published on 6th February in hardback form and is the first novel by Audrey Magee.  I’d packed this to take to Spain, in case I got a few minutes ‘me’ time at Mum and Dad’s.  It became addictive bedtime reading.  I was enthralled.

It tells the story of a German infantryman in the Second World War.  Peter is fighting in Russia and as a way of escaping the realities of war for a couple of weeks, marries a complete stranger via a photograph.  He is then granted honeymoon leave and travels to Berlin to meet his wife, Katharina for the first time.

We follow Peter and Katharina as they each face difficult journeys through the remainder of the war.  I found The Undertaking a fascinating read, although fictional, there are obviously historical truths running through the pages.  I’ve not read a WW2 story from the German point of view before.

Reading how Katharina and her parents were ‘given’ a wonderfully luxurious apartment by a Nazi Party friend and seeing their nonchalant disregard to the previous and rightful owners.  Shocking but all too real. Based in Berlin, and socialising with Party families, Katharina lived in a cocoon where anything seemed acceptable.  Difficult to accept in this day and age, but must have happened in so many circumstances in Germany in that period of history.

We also experience the hardship that the lowly German soldiers faced in the relentless winter in Russia.  Apart from knowing that the German’s had to retreat and that it was extremely cold, I knew nothing about this element of the war.  Again, I know The Undertaking if fictional, but based on truth.  It was interesting, to want this man to survive, and make it back to Berlin, and his family, but knowing, in reality, he would have been the enemy.

As you know I never reveal the endings of books.  Historically, we all obviously know where The Undertaking is likely to lead, but with regards to the individuals, you need to read for yourself.

Both of the main characters suffer a great deal through this story, you do feel compassion for both figures, they are flawed, and lived in an era I can’t fully comprehend.  Do we all do as we’re told, without really questioning, without standing up and asking why?  I wonder in that situation, how much of human nature is about self-preservation.

I can thoroughly recommend this novel by Audrey Magee, and I await her second novel with interest.


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