Thank you to the lovely people at Riverhead Books and WME Books for my copy of The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles. All thoughts and images are my own.
Title: The Air You Breate
Author: Frances de Pontes Peebles
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pub date: August 21, 2018
Read if you like: Bel Canto, The Queen of the Night, stories of female friendship.
This is a beautiful piece of historical fiction, that sweeps you from rural Brazil in the 1930s, to the streets of Rio de Janeiro in the 1940s, to Hollywood in the 1950s, and back again. Told out of chronological order, our narrator, Dores, infuses the story with a sense of melancholy and of regret. Dores has lost the most important person in her life: her childhood best friend, Graça. As the story progresses, Dores reveals just how tragic that loss was. Peebles does an incredible job of building the suspense of that reveal, while maintaining the reader’s interest in the story of the moment.
If you’re a music lover (or if you’ve ever tried to write a song), you need to read this novel. This story beautifully encapsulates how restorative it can be to write music, to funnel a piece of the life you’re living into something others can identify with. Honestly, any writer, artist, musician, or creator will probably identify with this experience.
Peebles has a talent for completely immersing you in each setting: the beauty and danger of both the plantation and the city streets are distinct but palpable in both cases. The reader gets to experience the distinction of class, the traditions of Samba music, the darker industries of Rio de Janeiro, and so much more of Brazil. It left me terrified and desperate to experience it.
This is my third read in the past month set in South America (Fruit of the Drunken Tree and Things We Lost in the Fire) and I’m so eager to continue experiencing this continent that I’m less than familiar with through literature. What are your favorite stories set in South America?
SYNOPSIS: (AS TOLD BY THE BACK OF THE BOOK)
The story of an intense female friendship fueled by affection, envy and pride–and each woman’s fear that she would be nothing without the other.
Skinny, nine-year-old orphaned Dores is working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation in 1930s Brazil when in walks a girl who changes everything. Graça, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, is clever, well fed, pretty, and thrillingly ill behaved. Born to wildly different worlds, Dores and Graça quickly bond over shared mischief, and then, on a deeper level, over music.
One has a voice like a songbird; the other feels melodies in her soul and composes lyrics to match. Music will become their shared passion, the source of their partnership and their rivalry, and for each, the only way out of the life to which each was born. But only one of the two is destined to be a star. Their intimate, volatile bond will determine each of their fortunes–and haunt their memories.
Traveling from Brazil’s inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Lapa in Rio de Janeiro, from Los Angeles during the Golden Age of Hollywood back to the irresistible drumbeat of home, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship–its unparalleled rewards and lasting losses–and considers what we owe to the relationships that shape our lives.