Friday, January 12, 2018

The Book Group Discusses Carry Me by Peter Behrens

"As a society loses its moral bearings, a childhood friendship deepends into a love affair with extraordinarily high stakes." This is fair summary of the evening book group's selection this month: Carry Me by Peter Behrens, an epic set mostly between World War I and II in Germany.  Since the library is still closed, we met at Dunkin Donuts.

Carry Me follows the lives of Karin, a screenwriter for UFA, the German film company, and Billy, a salesman for IG Farben, a German chemical conglomerate. However, the book begins earlier, with their childhood connection: Karin's father, a wealthy (and, fatefully, Jewish) baron, employs Billy's father to race his sailboats in regattas off the Isle of Wight.  The outbreak of World War I displaces the two families, but what keeps you turning the pages is the dreadful knowledge of what's waiting for them in the World War II years.  As Behrens sprinkles many chapters set in 1938 throughout the book, it's a suspenseful read.

In 2016, Carry Me was one of NPR's Best Books of the Year and a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.  The book group agreed that the story was especially resonant given how often we hear about refugees around the world fleeing to safety.  One member also noted that Billy, the narrator, was a very well developed character; and this may be because his story is based on Peter Behrens' father.  You can read the true story of Bill Behrens catching the last train out of Germany, and having to leave his parents behind, in the Peter Behrens' essay "Refugee Dreams" that was published in Granta, and also in another essay "The Last Train Before the War", published in the New York Times.

I found myself wanting to underline passages, as the writing can be beautiful and vivid, for example this diary entry Karin wrote remembering when her family home was a hospital during World War I:

"Our food is gray in war. Turnips, potatoes, porridge. All birds are killed for eating: sparrows, finches larks black crows with black feet. The officers with muddy yellow faces - have been gassed. Some wounds are purple. The nursing sister Zukermann wears pink says it is the most sensible shade, hides bloodstain scarlet would be better but - nursing sisters cannot wear scarlet!  "
Stay tuned to the blog to find out what titles the book group will be reading in 2018. We hope our next meeting will be at the 110 Roosevelt location.

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