The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles
Lindsay and I read The Air You Breathe with four of our Traveling Sisters and we all really loved this glorious, rich and soulful story of friendship.
We all loved the vivid and colorful feel we got for the setting and lively time. Frances de Pontes Peebles takes us through an intense and emotional, journey of a complex bond between friends and their love and ambition for Samba music. We follow them through their path to fame. We are taken to boozy Brazilian bars to the glamour of Hollywood.
Frances de Pontes Peebles does a great job here creating well developed unlikely and different characters with Dores and Graca. The rich characters climbed into our hearts and we could feel their ambition, treachery, loss, excitement and could the price they paid for their ambition and fame.
We highly recommended this story to lovers of Historical fiction that enjoy a strong bond between friends and their passion for their love of music.
This book will have you humming to the beat of samba music!
This is the story of Graca and Dores – two girls from two different parts of society. They have an intense friendship filled with fierce love and ruthless rivalry. They need and depend on each other in different ways, both feeling incomplete without the other.
The story begins on a sugar plantation in Brazil that Graca’s family owns. I really enjoyed the atmosphere of this part of the story. Dores is an orphan who has been ‘adopted’ by the head of the kitchen help. Outspoken, outgoing, spoiled Graca develops an immediate connection and bond with Dores and the two girls forge an unlikely friendship.
The girls’ journey takes them through their artistic careers and dreams of becoming samba stars – Graca the singer and Dores the songwriter. Many characters are introduced along the way, all the while, the samba music a sort of character in itself.
While I enjoyed this novel, I did find the story to be somewhat drawn out and riddled with too much detail. There were parts I found dragged and felt somewhat repetitive. However, I did enjoy learning about this time in history and felt the samba music was such a great background theme.
From Christina’s review
Peebles wove two incredibly complex and layered characters. Their relationship is full of juxtapositions – pain and heartbreak, beauty and rebirth.
While the story is told solely from Dores’ point of view, Peebles did an excellent job of highlighting the multi-dimensional character that is Graca/ Sofia Salvador. At times she seems vain, vapid and one note, at others she seems to have a depth unreachable by Dores, a pain only a true artist can understand and a soul that truly needs to be loved.
There is a heavy focus on music in general – most notably the Samba and it’s evident not only in the words written but in the way they were written as well. To me, the sign of an excellently written character-driven novel is that you notice that characters come in every form. Peebles created secondary characters out of music, out of the Samba, the setting, the time period and it’s impossible not to get swept up in it.
From Diane’s review
The music, incredible lyrics, the descriptions, the emotions, want and need almost viscerally felt by this reader. The descriptions of the places, their costumes, a book where I felt as if I was part of their journey, rather than just witnessing their struggles and successes. The melancholy tone, felt throughout, the way the story is told by a now elderly Dores, recounting past days, the secrets exposed, the things that were done on the way to Gracas stardom, all drew in this reader. Beautifully told, beautifully written. An absolutely amazing book.
Dores is based on the singer/songwriter Chevela Vargas and Graca is a made up character loosely modeled on Carmen Miranda, and her path to fame. To these people music was everything, song lyrics are parsed throughout the novel, and music would be what is left.
From Angela’s review
I felt as if this story was like a samba as it too was characterized by dips and upward springs in the lives of two complex characters as they stepped through their lives, their journey from a sugar cane plantation in Brazil to the streets and clubs of Rio, to Hollywood. It’s so well written, we are taken there to these places where a complicated friendship grows and flourishes as these two women step together at times and away at others. Dores, an orphan with no real identity other than as a kitchen girl becomes the unlikely friend of Graca, born to a family of means who now own the sugar plantation. As young girls, they discover music when Graca’s mother takes them to a concert. This is the beginning for them, leading them to their destinies as artists, each in their own right – Graca, the singer and Dores, the songwriter. For me, one of the most poignant moments of the book was this discovery. As the narrator of this story, Dores tell us : “ How miraculous than to hear something and know, without any doubt, that it is beautiful…..How incredible than that, despite the precariousness of my existence, despite the coarseness and violence that always threatened to suffocate me, there was this beauty, this grace, that had found me through music and that no one could take from me. This was the gift that music gave to Graca and me that night, and every night afterward: we had something of our own to truly love, and we had each other to share it with.”
From Marialyce’s review
Meet Dores, a poor young child, an orphan living on a sugar plantation forced to be the one who cares for herself, with some help from an old cook. Meet Graca, the daughter of the plantation owner. Together these two form a most unlikely friendship, a friendship that will carry them through a lifetime of sorrow, joy, and a wish for things that oftentimes are not to be. These girls are polar opposites and yet they find meaning within their lives, that meaning coming to them through the gift that music often brings. The girls grow, they run away to Rio de Janeiro, where they struggle and yet the music is that ultimate bond which joins them together. It is the way they survive, the way their future seems to move, the way they will share the joys and the many sorrows that life will force onto their paths. Their journey leads them eventually to Hollywood, the world of movies, of the samba, of the success of Graca who sings and dances her way through movie after movie, while Dores the composer of the songs, remains in the background, longing for recognition. Their lives seem to be what they desired, being recognized, being shown that their music their songs are heard and seen and yet it is not ultimately what they thought it would be. Their home, their country beckons, calls to them, and soon they realize that perhaps they can never go home again, never find that recognition they always sought, never to have a place to call their own.
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