March 22, 2017

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Books

Epic journey

Behrens’ take on migration, bigotry and love timely

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 20/2/2016 (396 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

WITH stunning imagery and fully realized characters, Peter Behrens’ third novel is a worthy followup to The O’Briens (2012) and his critically acclaimed first novel, Law of Dreams (2006).

A former Hollywood screenwriter, Behrens, a Montreal native now living in the U.S., began his career as a writer of short fiction. The masterly quality of this newest book should come as no surprise to those familiar with his work. His first book, Night Driving, a volume of short stories, was published in 1987. It was followed by the publication of short stories and essays in various North American magazines and journals.

Peter Behrens

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Peter Behrens

Law of Dreams became a popular and literary success, garnering him the 2006 Governor General’s Award for Fiction, and nominations the following year for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize, Books in Canada First Novel Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Carry Me is an unusual epic love story that meanders over decades and across continents. Moving back and forth between the early years of the century and 1938, the novel follows the lives of Irish-German Hermann (Billy) Lange and his beloved, Karin.

Via letters, archival documents and reminiscences, the story takes us from Germany to England and Ireland, and finally to the American West.

Nazi Germany has begun to create tensions for Karin and her Jewish family, and Billy vows to keep her safe. As youngsters together, Billy and Karin had one thing that drew them together and kept them insulated from the troubles around them: their love for the Winnetou stories of German writer Karl May.

As children, they wanted to believe that "el Iliano Estacado," May’s romantic world of adventure and freedom in the Wild West, actually existed. This belief becomes a beacon of hope for the two young adults as they plan their escape to a better life: "After five years of Hitler’s Germany, the idea of crossing el llano together seemed to offer — I won’t say salvation — but cleansing. Caustic sunlight and dry desert heat, to burn the drag of history from our wings."

Whether by chance or design, Behrens has chosen to use the first-person-narrator technique so characteristic of Karl May’s early writing. Its use in Carry Me permits readers an intimate relationship with the protagonist.

The first-person narrator also provides an outlet for the peculiar Irish wit Behrens seems so familiar with, as when Billy describes his childhood dream of punishing a nasty English school chum who called him Herm the Germ: "I would never let an animal, even a duck, drown in a pond without attempting rescue. If I rescued scrawny, bleak little Albert I’d be a hero. Even though I’d pushed him."

Timely in its depiction of North America as the mythical land of hope for so many, and timeless in its exploration of the effects of bigotry and the power of love, Carry Me is a brilliant and entertaining read.

Angela Narth is a Winnipeg author and literary reviewer.

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