Arab Today, arab today \the o\briens\ a multigenerational canadian epic
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Arab Today, arab today
Arab Today, arab today

\'The O\'Briens\': a multigenerational Canadian epic

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today \'The O\'Briens\': a multigenerational Canadian epic

London - Arabstoday

In the \"Law of Dreams,\" Canadian writer Peter Behrens\' first novel, an Irish immigrant makes his way out of famine-starved Ireland to Canada. The novel came out in 2006 to wide acclaim. Now, Behrens has followed up with another multi-generational novel. \"The O\'Briens\" opens in 1867, with teenage Joe O\'Brien, scratching out a living in Quebec after his father and mother died. Joe will go on to become the novel\'s patriarch. Behrens has taken the story of Canada\'s nation building: its railroads, towns, churches, and along with two world wars, made it part of the epic sweep of this book, which spans the decades to end in the 1960s. Peter Behrens joins us now from Marfa Public Radio in Marfa, Texas. Welcome to the program. PETER BEHRENS: Thank you very much, Jacki. LYDEN: So I\'ve given a bit of an introduction to your protagonist, Joe O\'Brien. Would you give us a picture of this very resourceful young man? BEHRENS: Joe is the tough guy who comes out of the bush, as we say in Canada, the real backwoods in the 1890s and as a poor boy and an orphan and makes himself a fortune in a family by building railways in Western Canada in the period of the just before the First World War; has a big family and wrestles with a lot of ghosts and demons from the Irish past. LYDEN: You\'re obviously drawn to the Irish experience in North America. Tell me a little bit about your fascination, and your own heritage. BEHRENS: Yeah. My great-great-grandfather, of whom I actually know very little, other than he came out of County Clare in the worst of the famine summers, 1847, and crawled ashore that summer on the wharf at Windmill Point in Montreal. At the same time, my family in Montreal were, you know, prosperous people and they weren\'t necessarily interested in being Irish by the time I got there. Ireland was, you know, was in a dim past and forgotten largely and memories connected to it were those of, you know, shame and poverty. They were very determined to be Canadian and be successful and they were. LYDEN: And that\'s kind of where you start this book, isn\'t it? I mean, Joe O\'Brien isn\'t particularly riffing on his Irish past. But he really wants to be the new man in the new place. BEHRENS: Yeah. Joe is largely based on my grandfather. And my granddaddy, his name was John Joseph O\'Brien. He had four daughters: Mary Margaret, Mary Frances, Mary Patricia and Mary Althea. He was the first warden of the Ascension of Our Lord Parish in Montreal, yet somehow we weren\'t Irish. We were Canadian. You know, we were in the present, in the now and all that Ireland stuff had been something that happened in the dim past and we were over it. LYDEN: So I want to stay with the character of Joe, where at first he seems like he\'s just going to be all industry, he develops a dark habit. He has a lost night after the death of one of his children. He gets stone drunk. It seems like maybe it\'s just going to be a one-off, but this becomes a pattern. BEHRENS: Yeah. And I think it\'s the consequence of what we were speaking of earlier. All the stuff in this guy\'s past, his family past, the Irish past that he\'s not interested in exploring or expressing, that darkness and silence comes, and that lack of finally a feeling at home anywhere in the world, which comes from not acknowledging, you know, who you really are and where you come from - all that gets expressed in his relationship to the bottle. He manages to hold it together 364 days a year, maybe even for a couple years, and then he takes himself off to New York, takes a tower suite in The Pierre and, you know, he\'s found two days later in a pile of whiskey bottles on the floor. LYDEN: You take him into combat in World War II and you might almost have done a separate novel based around this because it\'s so gritty and the voice changes and the novel becomes quite epistolary here. BEHRENS: I felt the sense that these boys, being overseas in the 40s, cracked them open in certain ways and the experience of combat opened and closed them in certain ways. And a lot of things that they - they didn\'t really have the language to express, given their kind of provincial, bourgeois upbringing in Montreal - were fighting for language in these letters. They\'re fighting to try to figure out how to explain to these women back at home what they\'ve been through. And in a way there really is no language in their culture for it. LYDEN: Why don\'t we read a letter? How about Sicily, August, 1943? BEHRENS: This is a letter from Joe\'s son-in-law, who\'s married his oldest daughter Margot and he\'s gone overseas with a French Canadian regiment and he\'s fighting in Sicily in the summer of 1943. And he\'s writing back to his wife in Montreal who is, you know, a pretty innocent provincial girl. (Reading) Margot, my cher, my pen is almost dry as my mouth. What clothes you wear, Margot? Do your fingers touch this paper? Does the ink speak to you? How are we connected exactly, Margot? I feel more of a connection to certain bullets than to you. Let me dispose of my adjectives. In your arms please let me release them bloody, silly, fecal, loud, beaten, red terror. You see, I\'ve slipped into nouns, so let me deliver a few more, Margot. You don\'t have to unwrap these. Just sign for them, then you can put them away. Machine-gun. Anti-tank. 303. 88. Tree burst. Counterattack. Head wound. Prisoner. Aorta. Femoral artery. Battle. Are your thighs still your thighs? Oh, I\'m sorry. I apologize.

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