The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

This is Audrey Magee’s debut novel and one of the final 6 books we shortlisted in the Bailey’s Women’s Fiction prize for 2014. It tells the story of an ordinary German soldier in World War 2 who is so desperate to escape the fighting on the Eastern front that he uses a ‘marriage bureau’ to wed a German woman he has never met. In return for this ‘Undertaking’, he is allowed  leave from the Russian front, she is guaranteed his pension if he dies in action as well as the prospect of producing children for the Reich. It’s a scheme that’s all part of Hitler’s ‘project’.  But what neither of them anticipate is how drawn they will be to each other once they’ve met. What I particularly loved about this book was the way it’s written – sparse prose, lots of dialogue that feels like it’s been stripped right back, making it feel all the more powerful. Because of that, it moves along at quite a pace. It’s rather like a piece of theatre written in novel form. For me, one of the most powerful parts of the book is the description of the trapped German soldiers fighting in Stalingrad. I’ve not felt that claustrophobic since reading Sebastian Faulk’s descriptions of the World War 1 tunnels in Birdsong.

4 thoughts on “The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

  1. Another terrific recommendation. Heartfelt thanks from us both. The back story of the siege of Stalingrad resonates with us. Our daughter-in-law is a native of this city. We love the city and its people. From the Volgograd State Panoramic museum to The tractor factory with its T34 tank monument, the Mamaev Kurgan monument of remembrance and loss , Pavlov’s house and The Von Paulus HQ in the old town , we have visited them all and more. Highly recommend this book, great debut novel.

  2. Wow, what a shocking, heartbreaking read. Simple, often terrifying, descriptive prose. Such a powerful tale of two people trying to hold onto love in the midst of war. Unputdownable!!

    1. Brilliant isn’t it! Such sparse prose yet so powerful

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