The O'Briens

Peter Behrens

"Streets flashed by in swords of light, offering glimpses of the shiny East River. Women with bare arms leaned out the windows of tenements, panting in the heat, so near he could almost touch them. There was something charged and warm about such relentless, impersonal intimacy; hundreds of people eating breakfast in their tiny kitchens and no one bothering to look up. The train crossed the black ribbon of the Harlem River, more or less saltwater, Joe figured, and therefore an arm of the sea, which joined everything and separated everything: the rim of the world."

An unforgettable saga of love, loss, and exhilarating change spanning half a century in the lives of a restless family.

The O'Briens is a family story unlike any you have read, a tale that pours straight from the heart of a splendid, tragic, ambitious clan. In Joe O'Brien—backwoods boy, railroad magnate, patriarch, brooding soul—Peter Behrens gives us a fiercely compelling character who exchanges isolation and poverty in the Canadian wilds for a share in the dazzling possibilities and consuming sorrows of the twentieth century. When Joe meets Iseult Wilkins in Venice-by-the-Sea, California, the story of their courtship—told in Behrens's gorgeous, honed style—becomes the first movement in a symphony of the generations. The O'Briens is the story of a marriage and a family moving through history—from the first flying machines, through two world wars, to the election of JFK—told with epic precision and wondrous imagination.

"Les O'Brien" —edition francaise

Like The O'Briens on Facebook Like The O'Briens on Facebook The O'Briens

An O'Briens slideshow: See the images that inspired the novel.

Peter Behrens profiled in the New York Times, March 1, 2012.

Hear Peter Behrens interviewed by Jacki Lyden on NPR's Weekend Edition.

Peter talks about family & fiction and reads from The O'Briens at KRCC Colorado Springs

Peter Behrens discusses his new novel, The O’Briens, a family story that spans half a century on the Leonard Lopate show, NYC.

PB talks about The O'Briens (and the O'Briens) with Shelagh Rogers CBC Radio 1's The Next Chapter.

Marc from @CJSW admitted that he had a man-crush on Peter Behrens after this GG Podcast interview.The GG Podcast, CJSW 90.9 FM

"If you were trying to describe Peter Behrens' latest novel, you would use words like "sweeping" and "epic".  —CBC Radio's "All in a Weekend" audio interview with Peter Behrens

Peter Behrens' tips for writers, Writers on Writing

Jeff Glor talks to Peter BehrensCBS News Interview

PB talks with Michael Silverblatt of NPR's "Bookworm" about The O'Briens (and about director Terence Malick).

PB talks about The O'Briens with Michael Enright on CBC Radio's "Sunday Edition," June 24 2012


“The O'Briens is a major accomplishment” —New York Times Book Review

“Peter Behrens’s twentieth-century American saga The O’Briens (Pantheon) is a film-ready tale of an Irish clan’s ‘strange, rough beauty,’ brought to its fullest expression by its ambitious eldest son, who knows what he wants and isn’t afraid to court her: ‘I won’t try to put you in some little-woman box . . . . Happiness means freedom.” —Megan O’Grady, Vogue (April 2012)

“The fact that I’m not even finished with this book and its topping my list for the month speaks very highly of Behrens’ amazing storytelling ability. ” —BOOK RIOT: Riot Round-Up: The Best Books We Read in July

“Brimming with character and incident, even more ambitious in scope than its prizewinning predecessor, The Law of Dreams. . . . Supple prose captures both their keening sorrowfulness and their rapturous engagement with the pleasures of the physical world. From the sepia-tinted opening tableau of an old priest waltzing with children to a hand-cranked Victrola to the spectral closing image of a man rowing out of the fog toward voices, Behrens celebrates the warmth of human attachments without pretending they can ever entirely dispel the existential chill of mortality and loneliness.” —The Daily Beast

PB's St. Patrick's Day Op-Ed: "It's About Immigration, Not Irishness"—The New York Times

“[a] deftly painted portrait of a marriage . . . . Behrens proves his mettle” —Seattle Times

Novels described as “sweeping” and “multigenerational” rarely make their way into the ranks of literary fiction. The O’Briens earns this distinction through its attention to language and place.  —Highbrow Magazine

Peter Behrens talks about his novel The O’BriensYouTube

"The O’Briens is a good sink-your-teeth-into read that explores the capricious nature of destiny with grace and humor while showing great compassion for its characters." —Fuse Book Review

“Striking . . . . this is a book to cherish . . . it has that wonderful old-fashioned feel of a story well-told. Plus, it has one of the best endings found anywhere in a long time. May The O’Briens become the great beach read of the summer of 2012.” —Buffalo News

“Behrens’ prose is clear, not fussy, and he has a strong sense of the power of place” —The Columbus Dispatch

"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. En route, he fashions a topographically capacious narrative that relishes the scents of Santa Barbara, the pastoral beauty of the Ojai Valley and the tidal mantras of coastal Maine." —James McElroy, The Washington Post

"Passionately romantic, grand-scale in scope and deep in heart, this one is a winner" —Dame Magazine

The O'Briens Q&A —

"Moments of grace and romance are rocked by cruel words and violence in this epic, a piece of rough beauty itself." —Publishers Weekly 1/2/12 (starred review)

"Compelling and haunting . . . epic in its scope. . . . and a reminder of just how vital, brutal, and pervasive, love is." —Nina Sankovitch in Huffington Post

"epic . . . an unforgettable narrative of marriage." —

"This is a story whose quiet brilliance can’t be ignored. It’s an intimate epic, if that makes sense—a portrait of an entire world through the lens of a single bloodline. All the joy and passion, all the anger and fear, all the love and loss involved in simply living and being—that’s what Peter Behrens has captured with The O’Briens." —

Peter Behrens talks and reads from The O'BriensKTRS, Marfa Public Radio, "Radio for a Wide Range"

Listen to the music behind the novel. Notes for Peter Behrens's Largehearted Boy Book Notes Playlist for The O'Briens, plus the playlist by largeheartedboy on Spotify. —Largehearted Boy Book Notes

"The O’Briens is a wonderful epic, across the generations and the continent.  Another triumph for a writer who is fast proving he can write just about anything." —Kevin Baker

"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, February 1, 2012

"A distinctly 20th century family epic . . . pitch-perfect. Behrens is capable of dazzling shifts from exterior to interior; all his characters negotiate the ‘sharp, hard edge of joy’ of being acutely, painfully alive." —National Post

"The O'Briens may just be the great Canadian novel." —

". . . in giving his family a past few of them knew existed, Behrens has made (The O'Briens) unforgettably alive." —The Globe and Mail

"The novel is wonderfully written; even harsh truths come forth in strangely lovely images. . . . Brimming with complex and nuanced characters, Behrens's second novel lives up to the expectations set by his award-winning debut."—The Winnipeg Free Press

"The O'Briens is a study of love, family and the idea of masculinity. Each one of the themes gets mixed up with each other throughout the book. Behren's exploration results in a love 'tenacious and without limits' but 'sometimes felt like being hated.'" —The Telegraph Journal (Saint John, New Brunswick)

"This huge novel follows the history of the family though the Great Depression and the Second World War. . . . Underlying the story is a nuance of tragedy and old sadness, as if somehow the family inherited some sense of the bitter tragedy that earlier forced their ancestors out of Ireland."—Kitchener-Waterloo Record

Q & A with Peter Behrens in Under Books Skin blog—Books Under Skin

"Having read both The Buddenbrooks and The O’Briens this summer, I can affirm they are definitely in the same league – great, juicy tales that will make you take a second look at annoying relatives." —Montreal Gazette

The O'Briens by Peter Behrens: Running in the Family —Toronto Star

"Behrens is a natural storyteller and his scope is vast." —Vancouver Sun

Five Questions for Author Peter Behrens —Zoomer Magazine

"His remarkable debut novel, The Law of Dreams, published in 2006 when the author was 52, told a harrowing tale of potato famine Ireland and coffin-ship . . . " —Peter Behrens profiled in the National Post

"In this epic-scaled novel, Behrens catches exactly not only the energy and vision of empire-builders, but also the vulnerability and fear that drives them." —The Map-Room: Words in Place, The Lorenzo Reading Series 2011-2012 [PDF]

Novelists we can't wait to read, Ottawa Citizen
By Richard Helm, Postmedia News January 2, 2011
"Peter Behrens's The O'Briens is a sequel to his award-winning The Law of Dreams . . ."

"Les O’Brien : un roman fleuve d’une rare intensité" —Cafe Powell

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