Author(s): Audrey Magee
The photograph of the woman is tied to a fencepost; the army chaplain hovers nearby. Peter Faber, a German soldier on the Russian front, is pledging his life to the stranger in the picture, while thousands of miles away in Berlin, the stranger is pledging the same to a photograph of him. Having never met, Peter and Katharina are getting married, a contract of business rather than of love - he earns ten days respite from the war for his 'honeymoon' while she is promised a widow's pension if he dies. Travelling to meet Katharina, Peter is surprised to find that he is attracted to his new wife; in only ten days the two strangers fall in love and commit themselves to a future together living under the bright promises of Nazism. However, when Peter rejoins his unit in Russia, the bitter winter rapidly chills the heat of his politics. As his comrades begin to die - by the cold, by the thump of falling bombs and by Russian knives - he loses sight of why Berlin has sent so many young men to their deaths in the snow drifts outside Stalingrad. Meanwhile, goaded on by her desperate and self-delusional parents, Katherina is ruthlessly working her way up the Nazi Party hierarchy, wedding herself and her young husband to a regime that will bury them if it ever falls...A stunning, riveting portrayal of ordinary people trapped by extraordinary circumstances, and the price they will have to pay for their survival. In the tradition of Bernard Schlink's The Reader and Rachel Seiffert's The Dark Room, The Undertaking shines an intense light on history and illuminates the lives of those caught up in one of its darkest chapters.
Audrey Magee worked for 12 years as a journalist, six of them as Ireland Correspondent of The Times, covering the conflict in Northern Ireland, the peace process and the havoc wreaked by the Omagh bomb. She has also written about Ireland for The Guardian and The Observer, and was Dublin stringer for Agence France Presse. Magee lived in Germany for a year between 1986 and 1987, when the men and women who had taken part in the war were living as grandparents, a shroud of silence over their past. She now lives in Wicklow with her husband and three daughters. The Undertaking is her first novel.