The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles

The Air You Breathe

Frances de Pontes Peebles

Traveling from Brazil’s inland sugar plantations to the rowdy streets of Rio de Janeiro, The Air You Breathe unfurls a moving portrait of a lifelong friendship.

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"Echoes of Elena Ferrante resound in this sumptuous saga."--O, The Oprah Magazine

"Enveloping...Peebles understands the shifting currents of female friendship, and she writes so vividly about samba that you close the book certain its heroine's voices must exist beyond the page." -People

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.

Advance Galley Reviews

Frances De Pontes Peebles' "The Air You Breathe" is a wonderful historical fiction novel that travels from a 1930s sugar plantation in Brazil to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to 1940s Hollywood and back to Brazil through the eyes of narrator Dores as she reminisces about her complicated friendship with Graca. Although the familiar tropes of spoiled rich girl/orphaned poor girl, selfish father, deceased mother are the foundation of this saga, the author avoids cliches and stereotypes and lures the reader into an understanding of a genuine but challenging lifelong friendship as well as the history and politics of the times. Music transports the reader (and the characters) through the story, and learning about the birth of samba was as interesting as discovering a different time and place while experiencing the development of these unforgettable friends. Thanks to Penguin's First to Read program for enabling me to discover this author and "The Air You Breathe" in an ARC.

I found this book to be amazing. It showed the beginning of the samba and how it tied into a complicated friendship. There is so much evolution and depth in this novel and I really enjoyed how it all unfolded. These women were pioneers with them both being larger than life in their own ways. I think that this book was so well written and dripped with a contagious emotion that reaches out and keeps you treasuring every word to the very end. Thanks for the ARC, First to Read.

It's rare for a novel to hit all the emotional beats that it needs to while not glorifying or vilifying its characters. There is something about The Air You Breathe that I can't put into words, that escapes definition in the same way that it can be difficult to break down a song that you love or that made you feel something. The book itself has a lyrical feel to it, an ebb and a flow to the structure as if we're listening to an album all the way through and taking that emotional journey from start to finish. We follow Dores and Graca on their journey from children of very different social stations to adults living very different lives in the same orbit. The world portrayed is ugly, but covered with the hint of possibility, an almost fairytale feel overcomes the streets of Lapa to leave it in that realm where it oscillates between ugly and beautiful. It is a gorgeous, beautifully-written, and heartbreaking journey through all the ways that we love each other and how we can hurt each other in the same breath.

I really loved The Air you Breathe. It’s the story of a complicated friendship between two girls, one the sugar plantation’s daughter and the other being an orphaned kitchen girl on the Brazilian plantation. The story also gives us some insight into Brazilian history and how the Samba was born. Frances de Pontes Peebles wrote the story beautifully. Thank you First To Read and Penguin Random House for another great ARC.

Well-done. It tells the story of Graca and Dores- and weaves seamlessly back and forth from present-ish to the timeline of the past. I was really impressed how much I was able to both love and hate Graca all at the same time...similarly to all of the characters. The story is driving and realisitic. It is shown through the eyes of Dores- which is absolutely perfect because you feel her pain and are sympathetic to the blinding light and force Graca could be.

This is a story of a sometimes turbulent friendship through good times and bad. Orphaned Dores is raised in the plantation kitchen by the cook. She knows how to work, how to avoid going hungry: how to survive. Graca is the only child of the plantation owner who knows how to get whatever she wants. Being the same age, an unlikely friendship between the girls is struck. Graca's mother introduces them to music and the girls are bonded for life through music. Leaving home to follow Graca's dream of getting on stage, they discover the samba, a Brazilian musical genre and dance style, and the people and culture that embrace it. What I most liked about the book was the music. (No, there is not a CD included, but there should at least be a link to online music.) Each chapter begins with the lyrics to an original samba song which beautifully introduce the events to come. Sit back, stream some samba music, grab a caipirinha beverage. and enjoy reading "The Air You Breathe."

4 stars Thank you to Penguin's First to Read and Riverhead books for a chance to read and review this ARC. Publishes Aug 21, 2018. You never know what you will get when you dive into a book written about another culture. But in this case, I am so very happy that I took the dip. The writing and prose in this book took you right into the 1930's Brazilian experience. It's music, it's culture, it's place in history all came alive. Then as the protagonists traveled to Hollywood in the 1940's, the history of that time period came through vividly. Told in the words of the elderly Dores, she began her story during her childhood in the hills of Brazil on a sugar plantation. Dores and her Mistress Garca strike out for Rio de Janeiro to make it big as singers. From Rio they travel to Hollywood. Dores ended up in the background, Garca ended up as the star. Dores wrote the music that brought Garca to fame. Both of these characters were exceptionally written. You saw the complexity of each individual develop as you read. The bond of their friendship was nearly unprecedented. The camaraderie, rivalry, complexity and vanity of their secrets, and desires lead these two characters forward and brought to the page a lasting impression.

Not really something I can say I enjoyed reading. The story itself feels a little too long, moves a bit slowly for me and is just, genuinely, not something I found myself wanting to read.

While I, unfortunately, did not enjoy this story, I do think it would be wonderful for the right reader. For me it was too slow, the characters were not engaging enough to care about, and as a result, I wasn’t excited to read. However, after skimming a few chapters, it appeared the action picked up quite a bit. For those who like sweeping stories of friendship with lots of description, this would probably be a real winner.

The Air You Breathe describes a friendship that starts on a sugar plantation in Brazil, moves to the world of samba in Rio, and then Hollywood, and then back home. It is narrated by Dores, the orphaned servant of Graca. Graca and Dores--- Grace and Sorrow. Friends, yes, but the friendship is dysfunctional. A friendship not soft and warm, but hard and full of sharp edges. I did not hate the book, but did not really like it either. The story did not follow in a readable linear fashion and it frequently diverted from the plot into ramblings of thought by Dor. Many times Dor alluded to Graca's early death. That was annoying, but, ironically, it did keep me reading the book to see how this untimely death occurred. Music is a central theme of their time in Rio. The friends go from hand-to-mouth poor to famous celebrities. Dor writes the lyrics; Graca, the beauty, performs. The highlight of the book for me was the inclusion of the lyrics of the songs written by Dor. They were all very clever and entertaining. Life in Brazil occurred in the 30's. Life in Hollywood occurred in the 40's. The story did pick up considerably while they were in Hollywood. There are many people who thought this book wonderful. So don't just listen to me; get others opinions.

While I thought the book could use some trimming as there was a lot of text that didn't move the book forward, it was overall a good read. Dores spent her whole life idolizing Graca, who is one of the most selfish characters a reader can come across. It was hard to watch their evolution of friendship as a good portion of it was entirely one-sided. Told from her point of view, we watch her live in Graca's shadow. But watching Dores come into her own was heartwarming. Adding music and the history of Samba was an added bonus that I think most readers would enjoy.

I enjoyed the book. The characters were well developed. The history of Brazil was very informative. A long read and worth it.

The Air You Breathe is a love story of the friendship between Dores and Graca, who first meet as children on the plantation of Graca's family. The story is told by Dores, an orphaned kitchen girl who is somewhere between slave and servant, and who adores the selfish, privileged, self-centered Graca who takes insatiably. The story follows them to a boarding school then Rio, where they make their way into the world of music. Their friendship is complex and evolves through the book though their bond never breaks. Graca is an infuriating character, but works well in the book, as de Pontes Peebles carefully weaves toward and away from her so she never becomes too overwhelming a presence. I found this book to be a remarkable work and felt I learned a bit about 1930s-40s Brazil while being completely drawn into the story of these two friends. I'm already looking for de Pontes Peebles' backlist, as I think her writing is marvelous.

I really really wanted to like this book. I found myself forcing myself to pick this book up. It was just really dry to me. The characters did not reach out to me at all. A few time I asked where is this book going.

This was a beautifully written book. I really felt like the author transported me to 1930s Brazil and with such an emphasis on music, the book had a lyrical quality. From the get go it was easy to get caught up in nine-year-old Dores's story line. She's an orphan on a sugar plantation and for the most part she is forced to take care of herself. She develops an unlikely friendship with Graca, the daughter of the plantation owner. The two are complete opposites but develop a bond over their love of music. This story was much more focused on character development than plot. That's not to say nothing goes on in terms of story as the action goes from the plantation, the streets of Rio de Janeiro, and eventually to Hollywood. But to me this was a story about friendship more than anything. It's a complicated friendship as at times it resembles more of a frenemy type relationship. I read this book a few weeks ago and I still find myself thinking about the two of them. Definitely recommend if you are in the mood for something with strong female personalities. Thank you to First to Read for the opportunity to read an advance digital copy!

I enjoyed this book. The characters and historical references helped create a very colorful backdrop for the story. I did find the book to get a bit bogged down and move slowly in parts, but, overall, I would rate this a 4/5.

There are four main characters to this expansive novel: Graça, the star, Dores, her best friend and the narrator, Vinicius, the guitar player who completes their love triangle, and Samba. Dores narrates their story from many years later, looking back on her childhood with Graça, the troubled teenage years after running away from home, and their 20s, during which Graça had an astonishing rise to stardom as well as the inevitable crash down. Graça, as her stage name Sofia Salvador, is a highly fictionalized version of Carmen Miranda, with many events of her life in common with the so-called Brazilian Bombshell (very very similar, clear quotations from her life). Vinicius (de Oliveira) is a highly fictionalized version of Aloísio de Oliveira, leader of Carmen Miranda's band (who recorded under several aliases, including Vinicius). The band is the Blue Moons in the book, Bando da Lua in real life. So much of the story of samba rings true, and more than that, authentic, all told from Dores' point of view as she writes songs for the band and hides in the shadows of history. She witnesses Brazil's legacy on a former slave plantation in the 20s, and then moves on to see Rio and its political and cultural turmoil in the 1930s. The Hollywood in the 1940s, where my long enjoyment of old musicals sat up and took delight in the details. It's a broad sweep done with a fine hand. I've read other books with characters that were not great people and complained that there was nothing else to save the book. This book is a dance of Graça and Dores (with occasional appearances by Vinicius) that is so tight and frenetic that it's not healthy, and both women do unforgivable things to each other. I would probably not enjoy their company, and there are times when I feel I needed a break from them. But they are fascinating, and their interaction with the music, with Rio, with Brazil and the world around them, makes this book so rich that the book is amazing even with deeply flawed heroines. This is how flawed characters become legends, how stars like Graça are made. How people become magnificent, as Graça would say. And Dores's observations on the human condition (and specifically womanhood) are thought-provoking, even when I deeply disagreed with her. I'm grateful to Penguin's First to Read program for giving me a copy of this to review.

As a reader who loves historical fiction, this story started out strong, but seemed to drag out longer than it needed to from the middle on. I had a hard time connecting to these characters and I never really felt emotional about them. The author does do a nice job of giving us the history of Brazilian music and how life was for performers to come to the U.S. and how they were treated. Overall, 3 stars out of 5 for me.

Maria de Dores was illegitimately born to a slave worker, in 1920, from a sugar cane plantation of Brazil. Despite the fact she was a slave herself, she was given the opportunity to play with the plantation owner’s daughter Graca, because there were no other young girls to play with. The girls slowly became inseparable, and started listening to long playing records with a phonograph that Graca requested from her mother. The girls left the plantation after Graca’s mother died, changed their names, and became singing celebrities in Rio and Los Angeles. Although the novel spans several decades, I was fascinated by the love and friendship the two women shared over such a long period of time. The Air You Breathe is a wonderful work of historical fiction, with special appeal to women because of the two strong female characters.

This book was an extremely moving account of what Brazil life, and music is really like. The book follows two young girls, and a young man throughout their life, which is filled with music. Dores is a poor child that is saved from being put to death at birth by the head of a kitchen on a sugar cane plantation in Brazil. She develops a close bond with another young girl, Graca, the plantation owners daughter. Together they eventually run away to be musicians, and perform samba. They eventually meet a young man, Vinicius, who is a guitar player who also loves samba. They perform a bond, and a band with several young men who love samba as well. This book follows them through successes and failures, and it's all told by Dores. This is a long book, over 400 pages, but it didn't feel like it was too much. For some reason I felt like I still wanted to know more about what happened in the middle when I got to the end. I would recommend this one to anyone who has patience to get through a long book. It's not for everyone, but I can say that I did enjoy it.

I enjoy historical fiction which introduces me to a time or place I know little about, stories which introduce me to the emotions and senses of a different era. The Air You Breathe is just such a novel. Set in Brazil before and through the second world war, we meet Dores and Graca, and watch their friendship, talents, and lifes grow and expand. Dores, orphaned and raised by a cook at the Great House of a sugar plantation, and Graca, the plantation new "Little Miss" who arrives at around age 9. Music becomes their savior, taking them places in life they never expected, but which Graca demanded and Dores became enamored with. Well written and engaging, Dores narrates their lives mostly chronologically from the end of her life, with interspersed short stretches about her later years. This technique keeps the interest building to a dramatic conclusion. Along the way tales of Rio in the 30s and 40s, of Brazilian history and culture, and of the music of samba educate and entertain. A very enjoyable read.


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