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Carry Me: A Novel

Carry Me: A Novel

3.0 1
by Peter Behrens

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During Billy Lange’s childhood on the Isle of Wight, he is entranced by Karin, the wild and elusive daughter of a German-Jewish baron who employs Billy’s parents. Years later, after the upheavals of World War I, the two children are reunited on the baron’s Frankfurt estate. Billy and Karin first bond over the popular Wild West stories of Karl May,


During Billy Lange’s childhood on the Isle of Wight, he is entranced by Karin, the wild and elusive daughter of a German-Jewish baron who employs Billy’s parents. Years later, after the upheavals of World War I, the two children are reunited on the baron’s Frankfurt estate. Billy and Karin first bond over the popular Wild West stories of Karl May, and later over their passion for jazz and Berlin nightclubs. But they also come to share a fantasy of escape from the 1930s Germany that is rapidly darkening around them—escape to the high plains of Texas and New Mexico they’d read about as children. Against the backdrop of Hitler’s rise to power, their friendship deepens into a love affair with extraordinarily high stakes. Brilliantly conceived and elegantly written, Peter Behrens’s Carry Me is both an epic love story and a lucid meditation on Europe’s violent twentieth century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“A moving meditation on identity and belonging, and a love story to get happily lost in.” —Montreal Gazette

“Behrens is a beautiful, lyric writer. His understanding of the age and command of it, moment to moment, is impressive. . . . Everything is beautiful in the details, in the smallness of personal moments.” —NPR
“Behrens captures his narrator’s naïveté and the casual anti-Semitism of the times with great skill and intelligence.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Behrens is so fine at both sweeping and granular evocations of history, so good at vividly and economically painting his minor players. . . . [His] prose thrills to the indelible and irrevocable.” —Washington Post

“Vividly imagined. . . . This ambitious novel provides a panoramic view of a continent and a microscopic view of two individuals hovering precariously between the two World Wars. . . . A stunningly intimate portrait.” —Booklist
“Staggeringly epic.” —Toronto Star

“Make[s] the past feel stunningly close at hand.” —Vogue.com
“Peter Behrens is a powerful stylist. . . . If exile is Behrens’s obsession, he’s still making it work in his fiction.” —The Globe and Mail

“[Carry Me] is both poetry and cartography. . . . Behrens has mined truths so skillfully that in reading they can slip by unnoticed; they’re never glaring or contrived. . . . Carry Me is full of . . . characters looking for a way to map their lives against war and love and change.”  —Portland Press Herald
“Carry Me’s perspective on war’s tragedies is beautifully composed, and heartbreakingly credible.” —Shelf Awareness
“Stunning imagery and fully realized characters. . . . 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. . . . A brilliant and entertaining read.” —Winnipeg Free Press
“The story’s essence is the relationship between kindred spirits Karin and Billy, but its fascination lies in the backdrop of Europe’s upheaval. . . . The book tracks the way allegiances shift during wartime and the devastating impact of being ‘othered,’ and not just its impact on Jews. . . . The tension and the expertly drawn portrait of Europe at war make this novel a winner.” —Now Magazine 

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.10(d)

Read an Excerpt

This will become the story of a young woman, Karin Weinbrenner. Her story is not mine, but sometimes her story feels like the armature my life has wound itself around. I am telling it, so this story is also about me.
I was born 27 May 1909 on the Isle of Wight, in a house, Sanssouci, named after Frederick the Great’s summer palace at Potsdam. I was baptized Hermann Lange but for most of my life have been called Billy.
Sanssouci still sits on a cliff overlooking the English Channel, which on a fair day spreads out below like blue butter. The house is now a small, expensive “boutique” hotel and no longer called Sanssouci. The management offers weekend-getaway packages for anxious Londoners who desire sea views, the scent of roses, and shadowy island lanes drip­ping with fuchsia.
Before the First World War the house belonged to Karin’s father, Baron Hermann von Weinbrenner. He was a chemist and colorist and very rich: half the cotton shirts in the world were dyed with aniline colors he’d created. The kaiser had first given Weinbrenner his von, then raised him to the lowest rank of nobility after he married Karin’s mother, daughter of an Irish peer.
Baron Hermann von Weinbrenner was the second Jewish member of the Royal Yacht Squadron at Cowes, on the Isle of Wight—Lord Rothschild was the first. Weinbrenner kept a pair of very fast gaff-rigged schooners, Hermione and Hermione II, and my father, Heinrich “Buck” Lange, was his racing skipper and trusted friend. Which is why my parents were living at Sanssouci and why I was born there.
Birthplaces, nationality—such details have consequences in this story.
My grandfather—also Heinrich Lange, but known in the family as Captain Jack—was a professional sea captain out of Hamburg. The Lange family had been traders and merchants (mostly in the Baltic) for a couple of hundred years before Captain Jack persuaded a syndi­cate of uncles and cousins to speculate in the California grain trade. Which meant purchasing San Joaquin Valley wheat at Port Costa, on San Francisco Bay, and transporting the cargo to Europe aboard their own three-masted bark, Lilith, to sell on the Hamburg exchange.
Risky business.
After some very rough weather on her westward passage round Cape Horn, Lilith was one hundred and seventy-one days out of Hamburg and a thousand miles off Acapulco when my grandmother Constance, who was Irish, went into labor. A couple of hours later my father was born in the master’s cabin, the delivery assisted by Captain Jack and by Joseph the Negro cook, who cried out, “Oh, the fine fellow! He is a bucko seaman!”
Christened Heinrich after his father and grandfather my father was known ever after as Buck.
Ten days later—six months out from Hamburg––Lilith dropped anchor at Yerba Buena Cove, and Heinrich/Buck was rowed ashore and registered as a loyal subject of the German emperor by Dr. Godeffroy, the consul at San Francisco.
The trouble starts there. Our story would have been quite different if, instead of being born on a German ship on the high seas, Buck had waited a few weeks to be born in a comfortable San Francisco hotel room.
Buck Lange an American citizen? How much simpler everything might have been.
But you can’t operate on history that way. An American Buck might have joined the American Expeditionary Force in 1917. I can see him answering the call to colors. He’d have been shipped to France and killed in one of the ugly, costly battles the AEF fought in 1918—
I don’t want to lose you over tedious genealogy and history that must be very dim to you. This is a story of real people who lived and died, about their times and what went wrong. I shall try to be hon­est even when it’s apparent I am making things up, delivering scenes I couldn’t have witnessed.
I know the truth in my bones. And that’s what I shall give you.
I’ll include documents—newspaper clippings, telegrams, even a film poster—from the Lange family archive, which McGill University has generously agreed to house. Calling it an archive is vainglorious. A few boxes on a library shelf are all it amounts to.
There are entries from Karin’s journal, her Kinds of Light book. When I read them I hear her voice. Even when her entries are merely extracts from her reading, I still feel her mind at work in the process of selection.
You’ll find letters here, from Karin, from others. I want you to hear the voices.
Otherwise they are all dead, aren’t they? Otherwise, no one remembers.

Meet the Author

PETER BEHRENS’s first novel, The Law of Dreams, won the Governor General’s Literary Award, Canada’s most prestigious book prize, and has been published in nine languages. The New York Times Book Review called his second novel, The O’Briens, “a major accomplishment.” He is the author of two collections of short stories, Night Driving and Travelling Light. His stories and essays have appeared in The Atlantic, The New York Times, and many anthologies. Awards he has received include a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University. A native of Montreal, he is currently a fellow at Harvard University’s Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

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Carry Me 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Piney10 More than 1 year ago
I'd rate this a 3.5. I loved the premise of the book which follows the fortunes and lives of two intermingled families in the first half of the 20th century, in England, Ireland, and Germany. It was great at the beginning but slowed in the middle. I loved the historical context of the brewing Irish rebellion, the English mistrust of Germans in World War I, including those who had lived in Great Britain for many years prior and had successful lives (somewhat similar to the treatment of the Japanese in the US during World War II), the carefree years of the 20s, and the years in Germany building up to Hitlers takeover. The story shows the two families from the early 1900s and then in 1938. The novel revolves around two children of the two families, a year apart. The girl Karin is the daughter of a wealthy Jewish entrepreneur whose mother is of Irish nobility, and Billy, the grandson of a German sailor and whose mother is Irish. Billy's father, Buck worked for Karin's family on the sea and on land. The story circles around the lives of each of these characters, with the tumultuous years having an impact in different ways on their lives and livelihood. Character development was weak in many characters, and some characters totally unlikeable. It's an interesting read on the historical front, less so on the story told, but lovely prose.