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The O'Briens

Written by Peter Behrens

  • 528 Pages
  • 9781770890299
  • FICTION / Sagas
  • FICTION / Historical
  • FICTION / Literary



Publication Date July 02, 2011

The O'Briens follows the family from The Law of Dreams two generations later: Joe O’Brien is coming of age in a new century in remote Pontiac County, Quebec, with his two brothers and two sisters by his side. Their father has abandoned the family and died in the South African war; their frail mother has remarried the abusive and lecherous Mick Heaney. Joe and his siblings escape the poverty and violence of the Pontiac, but as Joe travels the continent, building a business and a bright young family with his wife, Iseult, he is never quite able to leave his past behind.

Told from the perspectives of Joe, Iseult, and their children and spanning the construction of the Canadian railroad as well as both world wars, this is a majestic novel that mirrors the scope and sweep of what Wilfrid Laurier calls "Canada's Century." Tragic, romantic, and as vivid as the novel that preceded it, The O'Briens is an epic of great heart, imagination, and narrative force.

Selected for the New York Times Editors' Choice 2012


Peter Behrens
Peter Behrens is the author of the Governor General's Literary Award-winning novel, The Law of Dreams, published around the world to wide acclaim, and a collection of short stories, Night Driving. His short stories and essays have appeared in Atlantic Monthly, Tin House, Saturday Night, and the National Post. He was born in Montreal and lives on the coast of Maine with his wife and son.


"Brimming with complex and nuanced characters, Behrens's second novel lives up to the expectations set by his award-winning debut." Winnipeg Free Press

"Behren's characters are painfully real . . . the battle of the O'Brien family is as legendary and epic as any war." Telegraph-Journal

". . . a forward-looking novel . . . you want to turn the pages because the people become so real . . . but underlying the story is a nuance of tragedy and old sadness." Kitchener-Waterloo Record

". . . a distinctly 20th-century -- and decidedly Canadian -- family epic . . . pitch-perfect." National Post

". . . tragic and warm . . . lush with Canadian history . . ." The Coast

"For sheer reading satisfaction, The O'Briens is a treat waiting for everyone who read and enjoyed The Law of Dreams." Owen Sound Sun Times

"A truly wonderful writer who will no doubt be dominating the literary award nomination lists this fall." Montreal Gazette

"[The O'Briens] is impressive in its scope and ambitious in its goals. Behrens's writing is always tight, and some of his descriptions are flat-out jaw-dropping." Globe and Mail

"Behrens' fine writing moves readers from one decade to the next, and we become more attached to each of the characters with each passing year . . . a sweeping Canadian saga that will carry readers along." Vancouver Sun

". . . Behrens does an excellent job of exposing the particulars of life . . . extremely moving . . ." Edmonton Journal

"... Behrens deliver[s] beautifully ... thrilling and poignant." Montreal Review of Books

"...unforgettable..." Vogue

"Moments of grace and romance are rocked by cruel words and violence in this epic, a piece of rough beauty itself." Publishers Weekly

"Illuminating ... an epic along the lines of Middlesex in the way it follows a family through time and examines the results of their actions ... A brooding novel, engrossing in its scope and detail, The O’Briens keeps sight of the family’s personal stories amid the larger history of much of the twentieth century." Booklist

"Time and time again, Behrens proves himself a first-rate seanchaí, the Irish term for a storyteller, by bringing the O’Brien clan to life on the page." Washington Post

"The O'Briens is a major accomplishment." New York Times

"... fine storytelling ..." Seattle Times

"[The O'Briens] immerses readers in a river of narrative that seems less like fiction than lived experience ... striking and heartfelt ..." Daily Beast

""Behrens is a beautiful writer ... this is a novel whose vision affirms life in the very best ways."" The Arts Fuse

""Peter Behrens is a master of the art of storytelling."" Chalk the Sun Blog