New to me author Frances de Pontes Peebles comes to the blog today with a story that shares the lifetime friendship and dependency of two girls in 1930’s Brazil. Please read on for my review of
The Air You Breathe
Using a common thread to tie the two little girls, Dores, an orphan working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation and Graça, the daughter of the house. But both have much in common: their nine-year old selves become fast friends despite it all: the plantation is remote and there aren’t many children around – so being the same age and enjoying many of the same things (even as Graça’s got far more exposure to the better life) are instantly a common ground to bond them. Soon however, they discover the music that winds itself through much of Brasilian life: the Samba. It is much like a ‘heartbeat’ of the people, one commonality in a world that epitomizes diversity from rich to poor, natives to newly arrived.
Graça has a lovely voice, Dores is more connected to the rhythms and feelings the music brings to her heart, but the two are inexorably drawn to the Samba and their dreams to make their mark in Rio – the place to be noticed and gain fame. When Graça’s parents decide that she is to head off to boarding school, and takes Dores as her maid (as well-born girls do) they jump at the opportunity to make their own dreams come true, and run away without any solid plans or even a sense of where beyond Rio.
From here the story becomes one of triumph and tragedy, dreams won and lost even as their friendship shows itself to be more codependent and competitive than one would expect from their earlier days together. But as people grow older, perhaps it is the positions adopted and learned at birth that inform your behaviors and relationships later on. And they did achieve and find success, and tumult on their path – even as they gained fame, accolades and even love along the way. The writing in this book is lyrical, there is a beat evident in the words, almost an omnipresent shimmer as the story unfolds: from quiet moments of joyous little girls abandoning themselves to friendship and fun to the more calculated and ‘task specific’ music that they create together throughout their long association.
Narrated in Dores’ voice, we see the conflicts as they unfold, from segregation of dark and lighter members of the band into separate hotels in their venture to Hollywood, with the desire that Dores has to be recognized as an integral member, even as her position from all one may see is in the background, as the composer, most don’t see the hours and inspirations that bring the music, only those who bring it to them for their dance and enjoyment. Truly a struggle of loyalty and honoring what they had together, the story is engaging, engrossing and unlike anything I’ve ever read before: allowing understanding and perhaps a sense of the people born to the music of Samba.
Title: The Air You Breathe
Author: Frances de Pontes Peebles
Genre: Coming of Age, Historical Fiction, Jazz Age, Literary Fiction, Setting: Brazil
Published by: Riverhead
Published on: 21 August, 2018
Source: Publisher Via Edelweiss
Audio Length: 16 Hours: 38 minutes
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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.
A copy of this title was provided via Publisher Via Edelweiss for purpose of honest review. I was not compensated for this review: all conclusions are my own responsibility.