Air You Breathe (Peebles)

The Air You Breathe 
Frances de Pontes Peebles, 2018
Penguin Publishing
464 pp.

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. Graca, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, is clever, well fed, pretty, and thrillingly ill behaved.

Born to wildly different worlds, Dores and Graca 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. (From the publisher.)

Author Bio
Where—Pernambuco, Brazil
Education—Iowa's Workshop
Awards—Elle Grand Prix (see below)
Currently—lives in Chicago, Illinois, USA

Frances de Pontes Peebles is the author of the novel The Seamstress (2008), which was translated into nine languages and won the Elle Grand Prix for fiction, the Friends of American Writers Award, and the James Michener-Copernicus Society of America Fellowship. She followed her debut ten years later with The Air You Breathe (2018).

The decade between those two books was the result of Peebles' move back to Brazil with her husband to manage her family's coffee farm.

We helped them build a business of selling gourmet coffee to Brazilians. Farming was 24/7, so I didn't write during that time. Then we had a daughter. Motherhood changed my brain and how I worked. I had to sneak writing in when my daughter napped. I had to fight for this book in a way I didn't with the first.

Peebles' short stories have appeared in O. Henry Prize Stories, Zoetrope: All-Story, Missouri Review, and Indiana Review.

Born in Pernambuco, Brazil, Peebles is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. (From Amazon and  Maimi New Times. Retrieved 9/11/2018.)

Book Reviews
Echoes of Elena Ferrante resound in this sumptuous saga.
Oprah Magazine

A glorious, glittery saga of friendship and loss… [offering] murder, extortion, Hollywood glamor, the entire story of samba, and, of course, sexual longing and an exceptional cast of characters.… I read The Air You Breathe in two nights. (One might say I inhaled it.)… [G]enuinely exciting.

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.

A poor orphan and a wealthy heiress whose roller-coaster friendship is a welcome reminder that time can make any relationship stronger.

Frances de Pontes Peebles’ tender novel follows this unlikely friendship and the jealousy and rivalry that come with their pursuit of fame.
Real Simple

A soaring fusion of emotion, intense drama,… The Air You Breathe belongs to the special category of historical novels that chronicle entire lives—and it does so in enthralling fashion.… [I]ntoxicating … not to be missed by anyone wanting to be wrapped up in a well-told story.
Historical Novel Society

[A] captivating if occasionally overstuffed portrait of friendship.… [Yet] Dores’s reflections on love, music, envy, and loyalty ache with feeling, and a hint of mystery surrounding the central relationship …will keepreaders intrigued.
Publishers Weekly

In the 1930s, two girls—have-it-all Graca, the daughter of a wealthy sugar baron, and orphaned kitchen maid Dores—bond over a love of music and end up traveling together to Rio de Janeiro and finally Golden Age Hollywood in a quest for stardom.
Library Journal

Peebles does a marvelous job of evoking the world of samba, which forms the backdrop to the complicated relationship the two women share. Readers …will be rewarded with complex characters and a well-realized setting.

(Starred review) Dores' recounting of the duo's experiences is steeped in melancholy but also alludes to the unreliability of memory…. Peebles' detailed and atmospheric story is cinematic in scope, panoramic in view, and lyrical in tone.
Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions
1. In The Air You Breathe, Dores grows up under the watchful eye of Nena, the head of the kitchen on the Riacho Doce plantation, while enduring gossip about her birth mother. Graaa’s mother does everything she can to expose her absent-minded daughter to the arts and education. In what ways do Dores’s and Graca’s relationships with their mothers or mother figures affect the way they lead their lives in Rio and beyond?

2. Throughout the novel, Graca comes across as spoiled and selfish; however, Dores is forced to reevaluate her intentions when Graca accuses her of only ever looking out for herself. To what extent is this true and what might have prompted Graca to make such a comment?

3. Music is a pivotal part of each of the characters’ lives. In what ways does music act as an escape and a burden for Dores, Graca, Vinicius, and the Blue Moon boys?

4. Dores’s love for Graca can become dangerously unconditional and we see that any attention from Graca is enough to make Dores want to abandon the work they’ve put into the Sofia Salvador act to run away with her. Are there instances when Dores seems to have had enough? What pulls her back into Graca’s influence? Was Dores, in a sense, liberated by Graca’s death?

5. Why, when Senhor Pimentel reappears in the girls’ lives, is Graca so willing to let him back in? Is Graca’s love for her father similar to Dores’s love for Graca in that both are willing to settle for minor displays of affection?

6. Madame Lucifer and the Lion fought to get to their positions of power, and both show their respect for Dores’s perseverance. How is Graca treated in comparison to the way Dores is? Are there instances when Graca, rather than Dores, is invisible or in the shadows?

7. Vinicius is a grounded character who cares about the integrity of his music first. How does Vinicius, and his relationship with music, change when Sofia Salvador and the Blue Moon boys gain fame, first in Rio then in Los Angeles? When Graca wants to abandon ship, Vinicius wants to convince her to stay and finish filming for their movies. Is this a practical decision or one that reflects how he feels about fame?

8. Graca and Dores want what the other has. Dores wants Graca’s voice and her command on stage while Graca wants Dores’s ability to write music and her relationship with Vinicius. In what ways would our opinion of Dores change if the story had been written from Graca’s point of view?
(Questions issued by the publisher.)

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