• Review
By – May 3, 2016

Peter Behrens’s newest nov­el, Car­ry Me, weaves chap­ters back and forth between 1918 and 1938, revolv­ing around events of World War I and World War II. This his­tor­i­cal fic­tion nov­el sets the back­drop of these wars behind two dynam­ic char­ac­ters, Bil­ly and Karin, who were born in the same room years apart and strug­gle to live mean­ing­ful­ly dur­ing a time of upheaval in Ger­many and London.

Read­ers learn ear­ly on that Bil­ly and Karin end up in a roman­tic rela­tion­ship and aim to escape Nazi Ger­many by flee­ing first to the Unit­ed States and then to Cana­da. Karin’s father is Jew­ish and despite not being reli­gious, Karin and her par­ents are tar­get­ed and her father is bru­tal­ly attacked. Due to her Jew­ish appear­ance, Karin is some­times accost­ed on the street in the pres­ence of Bil­ly, a non-Jew who is fed up with the way peo­ple are being treat­ed. Despite the dan­ger in Ger­many, Karin remains hes­i­tant to leave, por­tray­ing the strug­gle of Ger­man Jews who felt more Ger­man than Jewish.

Billy’s child­hood is full of uncer­tain­ty as he has to move mul­ti­ple times for safe­ty, change his name, and wit­ness his father being tak­en away to prison, accused of spy­ing dur­ing World War I. Dur­ing Bil­ly and Karin’s child­hoods and even as they get old­er, they fan­ta­size about Karl May’s Win­netou books about the Wild West, spe­cial­ly a place called el llano, where there was open space, unbound­ed dis­tance, harsh sun­light, nobil­i­ty of char­ac­ter” and a way to burn the drag of his­to­ry.” Bil­ly and Karin con­tin­ue to refer to el llano as a way of say­ing life can be bet­ter in the future, away from hell­ish war-torn Europe. El llano becomes a stronger source of hope once Bil­ly and Karin attend one of Hitler’s speech­es before his ascent to pow­er. The plot inten­si­fies from this moment on, as Karin and her fam­i­ly are direct­ly impact­ed by Nazism and Bil­ly and his father strug­gle to find ways to help and to escape.

Through­out the nov­el, there are many secrets and changes in rela­tion­ship sta­tus for Karin, who is very well-liked, beau­ti­ful, and care­free. Many men are enam­ored by her, and it is a joy to fol­low her jour­ney, espe­cial­ly know­ing that she will end up with Bil­ly. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, reach­ing the Unit­ed States togeth­er does not prove to be the end of their strug­gles. Behrens shows the dis­rup­tions that the two World Wars have on the char­ac­ters’ fam­i­lies in Europe: how war caus­es peo­ple to change, to with­draw from oth­ers, to feel less secure even in places where they are sup­posed to find safety.

Car­ry Me is a very care­ful­ly writ­ten page-turn­er that switch­es back and forth between these two impor­tant moments of his­to­ry and brings read­ers into the inti­mate lives of young adults try­ing to find their place in a world of chaos.

Relat­ed Reads:

Jamie Wendt is the author of the poet­ry col­lec­tion Fruit of the Earth (Main Street Rag, 2018), which won the 2019 Nation­al Fed­er­a­tion of Press Women Book Award in Poet­ry. Her man­u­script, Laugh­ing in Yid­dish, was a final­ist for the 2022 Philip Levine Prize in Poet­ry. Her poems and essays have been pub­lished in var­i­ous lit­er­ary jour­nals and antholo­gies, includ­ing Fem­i­nine Ris­ingGreen Moun­tains Review, Lilith, Jet Fuel Review, the For­ward, Poet­i­ca Mag­a­zine, and oth­ers. She con­tributes book reviews to Jew­ish Book Coun­cil as well as to oth­er pub­li­ca­tions, includ­ing Lit­er­ary Mama and Mom Egg Review. She has received an Hon­or­able Men­tion Push­cart Prize and was nom­i­nat­ed for Best Spir­i­tu­al Lit­er­a­ture. She holds an MFA in Cre­ative Writ­ing from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nebras­ka Oma­ha. She is a mid­dle school Human­i­ties teacher and lives in Chica­go with her hus­band and two kids. 

Discussion Questions