Monday, February 11, 2019

The Air You Breathe

Title:  The Air You Breathe
Author:  Frances de Pontes Peebles
Publication Information:  Riverhead Books. 2018. 464 pages.
ISBN:  0735210993 / 978-0735210998

Book Source:  I received this book through the Penguin First to Read program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Time is short and the water is rising."

Favorite Quote:  "... what is truth. Someone can be completely sincere in their belief of what they sawn and when. But another person, seeing the same things, has a different vision. A red fish becomes purple at sunset, black at night. An ant would call Riacho Doce's river an ocean. A giant would say it was a trickle. What we see in the world depends so much on who we are at the moment of seeing. Such stories may turn out to be gifts like bread crumbs leading us out of a dark forest; or they may be terrible diversions, leading deeper in to a maze we can never escape."

Best friends can be complicated. When a friendship lasts a lifetime, it has its ups and downs. Rivalry can punctuate the lives of friends. What you hope endures is the love.

Dores and Garca. Dores is the orphan, born to a "dirt poor" mother. She has learned to survive on the sugar plantation in the heart of Brazil. Garca comes to the plantation as the daughter of its new owner. The lives of the two couldn't be more different. Yet, each recognizes a kindred soul in the other. A friendship forms. "I knew how to work, how to avoid going hungry, how to survive. But I always needed Garca to teach me about possibility." The friendship cements itself in the breaking of rules and in music. Little do they know how long the friendship will endure or where it takes.

The book starts at that meeting and winds its way through almost five hundred pages and decades of friendship. It leads from the plantation to the streets of Rio de Janeiro to Hollywood and back again. Through it all runs music. It begins as a duo, but then each young woman finds her voice in different ways. Garca is a gifted singer. She transforms into a star, Sophia Salvador. Dores does not have a talent for singing, but finds her voice as a songwriter. As Sophia's songwriter. They work together. Yet, Garca is the face and the voice that people recognize. She is the star even though the stories and words people respond to belong to Dores. So, it continues through their lives.

The narration of the story is entirely through Dores's eyes. It is an old Dores reflecting back on life and friendship. Although the book creates a multi-dimensional image of Garca, it is through Dores's perception. Part of me is left wondering what the other side of the story would be. "Being a woman is always a performance; only the very old and very young are allowed to bow out of it. The rest must play our parts with vigor but seemingly without effort." We see Dores's performance, but I am left wanting to see Garca's.

Also, for what the story is, the book is long. The descriptions are detailed, which is an interesting construct given that the book is written as a memory. The details also seem superfluous given that this is a book more about characters than the plot. The plot itself is a fairly simple one. Sometimes, the details appear as filler.

Aside from the two women, the third main "character" of the book is the music itself. Music is a primary reason the bond between Dores and Garca forms. Music leads them from the plantation to the music scene of Lapa in Rio de Jaeiro. Music determines almost the entire trajectory of their lives. At some point, their differing contributions to music also divide them. Through it all, the book is an homage to the samba music tradition that is so integral to Brazilian culture. A new knowledge of this music is what I take from this book more so than the human characters or the story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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