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Book Review: 'The Air You Breathe'

The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles is a tale of the long and complicated friendship of two women. 

Dores is adopted and working as a cook’s assistant on a sugar plantation in Brazil. One day she is summoned to the family quarters and is scooped from the kitchen to befriend Graca, the lonely only child of the plantation. Looking back, Dores is the wise narrator of the novel.

Dores and Graca are tutored at home, then sent off to a boarding school. During their music lessons it becomes apparent that Graca is the talented one. However, together they have ambition to be a duo and from the stage, take the world by storm. They daringly escape from boarding school and make their way to the streets and the scummy clubs of Rio. Within are the takers and kingpins ready to pounce on the innocents who are new in town. The storms aren’t as they expect and soon Graca finds a band and is sought after as a performer in the high-class clubs. Dores becomes Graca’s manager--a disciplined counterpoint to her spirited friend, and loyal to the end.  

While The Air You Breathe is a brilliant portrayal of female friendship, equally brilliant are Peebles’ descriptions of the soulful step-by-step rhythm of whipped-up samba musicians, the dank back rooms & makeshift stages of boozy clubs in Rio, how the world magically retreats when a bedazzled singer steps into view, erupting in song, and finally the celluloid seduction of Hollywood studios. This is a remarkable and deeply felt tale of the price of ambition and fame.


The original transcript named the character "Dores" as "Dorca". It has been corrected.