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Fiction Literary

The O'Briens

by (author) Peter Behrens

House of Anansi Press Inc
Initial publish date
Jul 2011
Literary, Sagas, Historical
  • Hardback

    Publish Date
    Jul 2011
    List Price
  • eBook

    Publish Date
    Jul 2011
    List Price
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Apr 2012
    List Price

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Out of print

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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 brothers and 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 an empire 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 novel 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.

About the author

Peter Behrens’s first novel, The Law of Dreams, won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and has been published in nine languages. His collection of short stories, Travelling Light, was reissued in 2013. The New York Times called his second novel, The O’Briens (2011), "a major achievement." Carry Me, his third novel, appeared in 2016. His stories and essays have appeared in the Atlantic Monthly, the New York Times, Tin House, Brick, Best Canadian Stories, Best Canadian Essays and many anthologies. Behrens is a native of Montreal and was educated at Lower Canada College, Concordia University, and McGill. He has held a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Creative Writing at Stanford University and was a 2015-16 Fellow at Harvard University's Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.

Peter Behrens' profile page


  • Commended, New York Times Editors' Choice

Editorial Reviews

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

Winnipeg Free Press

. . . tragic and warm . . . lush with Canadian history . . .

The Coast

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

Edmonton Journal

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

Montreal Gazette

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

Publishers Weekly

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

Daily Beast

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

National Post

. . . 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

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

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 deliver[s] beautifully ... thrilling and poignant.

Montreal Review of Books

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.


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




... fine storytelling ...

Seattle Times

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

The Arts Fuse

[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

"Peter Behrens is a master of the art of storytelling."

Chalk the Sun Blog

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

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