The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

The Undertaking

Audrey Magee

Nazi Germany is the setting for this timely reminder of the inhumanity of warfare, both on the home front and at the eastern front in Russia. Moral degradation permeates all strata of society from the top down, as nationalism at its worst takes hold. The horror is amplified by the neutral tone of the writing, which spares us no atrocity, in its chilling detachment.


The field trip to that house south of Berlin had been shocking. When she and the other girls were taken by bus, led up a marble staircase by a nurse in crisp white and brought into a room with tall windows, ornate ceilings. The noise. The screeches. The stench. The faeces on the wall. The puddles of urine. The nurse shoved her further into the room of metal cots and screaming children in stained lilac cotton gowns ....
Later the nurse addressed the youth movement girls in neat uniform and tidy hair on the importance of choosing the right husband.
‘It’s vital to ensure there are no impurities – of blood, flesh or brain – that might pass from one generation to the next.’
‘What will happen to them?’ said Katharina.
‘That is to be decided. It costs a lot to keep them here, money that could be better spent on healthy children.’

  • Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada
  • City of Women by David R Gillham

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