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The O’Briens 

By Peter Behrens (Anansi Press)

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Following in the footsteps of Governor General’s Award-winning The Law of Dreams comes Behrens’s sequel, The O’Briens. Picking up the branches of the same family tree 40 years later, we trail Joe O’Brien as he makes his way from the back woods of Quebec to seek his fortune in the west. There, he finds love and begins to build the wealthy railway empire that the future O’Briens will squander. The novel, both tragic and warm, is lush with Canadian history, bringing depth to the epic saga of a fierce family man. We become tied to their narratives from year to year, war to war, generation to generation, culminating in a mysterious tome that follows---but never gets close enough to---its characters. Behrens is ambitious, flitting from event to event with the finesse of a well-seasoned history teacher. Although it’s an almost obsessive read we still find ourselves at the end on a sailboat with Joe, wondering, as he is, just where it all went wrong.

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