Book: The Air You Breathe
Author: Frances de Pontes Peebles
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Riverhead Books
Number of Pages: 464 pages
“Echoes of Elena Ferrante resound in this sumptuous saga.”–O, The Oprah Magazine
“A masterfully choreographed saga of friendship, envy, sacrifice and love–as soulful, layered, and intoxicating as the samba that reverberates from the page.” -Georgia Hunter, New York Times-bestselling author of We Were the Lucky Ones
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.
Some friendships, like romance, have the feeling of fate.
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 Rio de Janeiro’s famous Lapa neighborhood, 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.
This book is one of the reasons why I love to read historical fiction. It opened my eyes to a lot of history, most especially about Samba and Brazil. I love music but I’m not a singer, writer nor do I play any instruments. I love mostly pop songs and Christian music but I never listen to Latin music. Except of course to those famous Latin pop songs. Anyway, this book opened my eyes to the history and background of Latin music, most especially Samba. The book was so beautifully written that it motivated me to Google Latin Hollywood artists in 1930s to 1950s. And I even watched the video in YouTube of the real Brazilian Bombshell Carmen Miranda with her Tutti Frutti Hat.
The story is narrated by Dores, a poor orphan girl who grow up in the kitchen at a big house in a sugarcane plantation in Brazil which was owned by the Pimentels. But the story really became more interesting for me when Dores met Graca, the little Miss, the one and only child of a rich sugar plantation owner, Senor Pimentel. Their complicated friendship and journey takes us from Riacho Doce (the sugar plantation) to the vibrant streets of Lapa, Rio de Janeiro then to the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and later to the Casinos in Las Vegas.
It’s a poignant story of two girls who was born in a total opposite social status. Dores was a poor kitchen girl raised by Nena, a beloved cook of the Pimentel family. She’s not pretty and does not have a promising future. On the other hand, Graca was a Pimentel, beautiful and with a bright future. But their outlook in life change when one day Senhora Pimentel (Graca’s mother) took them both to a concert and discovered their love for music. The story takes more shape when they run away and bring you along their journey, struggles, quibbles, successes, jealousy, love and the beautiful music they create, with Dores’s beautiful song writing and Graca’s captivating voice and smile. I sometimes hated Graca or Sophia Salvador and her self-centeredness. I was rooting for Dores from the very beginning until the very end. Dores is not a perfect character but you can’t help being drawn to her because of what she had to go through. She’s not a damsel in distress either. She’s a strong character who fights hard for her love ones. The storyline is not unique but the way the author weaved the story and its colorful characters were so captivating that you just can’t put the book down.
The character development is definitely one of the big focuses of the story. But there’s also few references regarding politics, most especially Brazil’s relationship with the United States. And it also touches racism in Hollywood during its early days. Something that was a norm during that time and, yes, it still exists even now. It made me cringe reading about how the people with color were treated like a fad/fashion or even a joke.
This book did not make me sob nor wrench my heart but I’m definitely giving this five stars. So glad I picked this book last month in my Book of the Month subscription box. It’s definitely worth my credit.