Friday, November 4, 2016

Carry Me by Peter Behrens

It's a bit hard for me to summarize my feelings about this book.  Overall I was really intrigued by the story, but at times it was hard slogging.

The novel is narrated by Billy Lange who is looking back on his life at some indeterminate time (probably about the 1970s).  Billy was born in 1909 on the Isle of Wight.  His father was the skipper of the racing yacht belonging to a wealthy German-Jewish baron, von Weinbrenner, who, with his wife and daughter, spend one month a year on the island.  The rest of the year Billy and his family live in the home and take care of it for the baron.

Billy is born one year after von Weinbrenner's daughter Karin and is instantly drawn to her - she seems so adventurous and sophisticated to the younger boy, who is after all the child of her family's employees.

Billy's father is German, though really only in name having been born to a German sailor and his Irish wife miles off the coast of Acapulco and registered as a German upon hitting land.  Had he been born days later he would have been a US citizen which would have changed the course of his life and that of his family.  Upon the outbreak of World War I Billy's father is arrested and accused of being a German spy (primarily because part of his job was tracking sailing boats with a pair of binoculars).  As the von Weinbrenners are no longer welcome in the UK, Billy and his mother struggle to survive, eventually returning to his mother's home in Ireland where Billy also makes his first friend (Mick who appears on and off later in his life) and meets his paternal grandmother.

When the war is over Billy's father is released, but deported back to Germany.  The von Weinbrenners take them in and give Billy's father a job running their newly formed horse racing operation.

From there we follow Billy and Karin's lives in the interwar years - watching the horror of the rise of Naziism.

The novel, though narrated from a later date, alternates between the early story and 1938 when Billy and Karin are planning to escape Germany.  Along the way he paints a terrible picture of the rise of anti-semitism and its impact on Karin's once powerful family.  He sort of off handedly tells us how the Jews he met along the way fared during the war; somewhat downplaying the horror of most of their experiences.

What Billy and Karin share from childhood is an interest in the American west - in particular, El Llano Estacado which they read about in German language children's novels.  Eventually they fulfil their wish to travel there but it is not the idyllic escape that Billy expects.

In the end, I think I recommend this book, but you have to be prepared to give it some time to warm up and some patience for the less engaging sections.

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