Gutted. That’s how I felt while reading The Undertaking by Audrey Magee. And I mean it in the best way possible. I’d give this book 4 out of 5 stars if I were one to give stars, but it is not an easy read. It’s about a Nazi soldier on the Russian front in WWII and his new wife back in Berlin. So yeah, it’s a pretty horrific war story and Magee’s writing style makes it ever so real. There is not one word to many or out of place. That’s what leaves you feeling gutted.
The story begins with Peter marrying a photograph of Katharina. They’ve never met. He marries her so he can get leave, she married him for the pension she’ll receive. They meet on his leave in Berlin and he’s swept up into the Nazi machinery by Katharina’s father before returning to the Russian front after 3 weeks.
I was fascinated by life in Berlin as told in The Undertaking and how being a ‘good Nazi’ could win one favors, and how quickly one could fall out of favor. Even though Peter becomes fully indoctrinated, this does not help one on the battlefield. Much of what goes on in the book is subtly told and stunning at the same time.
Who would like this book? This is a work of literary fiction that tells a story from a perspective we seldom see – that of German soldiers and Nazi loyalists. For that reason alone it is a worthwhile read. But on top of that, Magee is a stunning writer. The Undertaking was nominated for the Bailey Prize and deservedly so. The writing is sparse and precise and that is what makes it so cutting.
I received this book as part of my Willoughby Book Club Subscription.