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'The O'Briens': A Multigenerational Canadian Epic

In the Law of Dreams, Canadian writer Peter Behrens' first novel, an Irish immigrant, based on Behrens' grandfather, makes his way out of famine-starved Ireland to Canada. The novel came out in 2006 to wide acclaim and won Canada's Governor-General's award for fiction.

Now, Behrens has followed up with another multigenerational novel. The O'Briens opens in 1867, with teenage Joe O'Brien scratching out a living in Quebec after his father and mother have both died.

Joe will go on to become the novel's patriarch. Behrens has taken the story of Canada's nation-building: railroads, churches, towns, two world wars — and made it part of the epic sweep of this book, which spans the decades to end in the 1960s. Behrens talks about his new novel with NPR's Jacki Lyden.

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