The Next Chapter

Peter Behrens on his father's last-minute escape from pre-war Germany

Peter Behrens explains the genesis of his latest novel.
Peter Behrens won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2006 for his debut novel, The Law of Dreams. Carry Me is his third novel. (Winky Lewis)

Peter Behrens's novel Carry Me tells the story of Billy Lange, who grows up in England as the son of a skipper on a wealthy German-Jewish baron's racing yacht. Billy and the baron's daughter come of age in Germany, where their relationship develops extraordinarily high stakes on the eve of the Second World War. 

A lot of the story in Carry Me is an inherited family story that I've been carrying around for a long time and needed to tell. There was a moment when my dad was on his deathbed in Montreal. I was with him, and he was moving in and out of a coma and not particularly cogent, and he kept sitting up in bed and telling me to get his suitcase out of the closet because he had to get it packed because we had to get to the train station so he could cross the border. And I know he was referring back to late August, 1939, when he got out of Germany just a few hours before war was declared. My family were not Jews, they were Catholics, and so faced nothing like millions of people faced. They were definitely on the relatively lucky side of history. But nonetheless, my father had a very challenging time growing up in Europe, and that's really what the book was trying to handle.

Peter Behrens's comments have been edited and condensed.

Read more about how Peter Behrens wrote Carry Me.