Book Review: The Air You Breath by Frances de Pontes Peebles

This post has my personal opinion and you are invited to provide any comments at the end.

How I got the book?

This book was chosen by one of my Book Clubs. It is my first book with a Book Club and I cannot be happier with the selection because I am almost sure I would not have chosen this book on my own free will.

The story line of this book completely caught my attention. The book narrates, in an autobiographical way, the protagonist love story with music as the never-ending love, and the love story of friendship between her and her best friend, to whom from early one she latched on dedicating her life to their survival both, in poverty, in success, in love, in music.

The story goes back and forth during the span of the protagonist’s life. The protagonist, now an old woman, gives us a tender and dramatic, as well as real picture of her upbringing (being an orphan living in a sugar plantation as a kitchen aid), to escaping the plantation in order to pursue freedom and music, with her now best friend Graca which is the daughter of the owners of the plantation, to surviving poverty in the streets of Brazil pursuing their dream of becoming music super stars, to the aftermath of losing it all all at once, and her redemption finding love, comfort, and music inspiration again.

Our protagonist, Dolores, and best fried, Graca, life story is always challenging, scary and uncertain, but propelled forward by their undying love to music, to created it, to sing it, to be famous and successful. Dolores coming from absolutely nothing, with no parents, no home, no family, no money, no possessions, and Graca, the daughter of the owner of the plantation, mean to marry a rich husband, having kids, and Our protagonist, Dolores, and best friend, Graca, life story is always challenging, scary and uncertain, but propelled forward by their undying love to music, to create it, to sing it, to be famous and successful. Dolores coming from absolutely nothing, with no parents, no home, no family, no money, no possessions, and Graca, the daughter of the owner of the plantation, mean to marry a rich husband, having kids, and living lavishly although plainly are complete opposites brought together by music, by a yearning to be loved, to be needed, to be remembered, to be famous, to be special. Their differences make them stronger together, but at the same time, makes the perfect component to one of the most explosive, destructive, tender, and loving relationships I have witnessed.

Dolores is also open about her sexuality, from early one she is transparent and lets us in in her love life as casually as it can, accepting and understanding her sexual preferences.

My Personal Opinion:

This book captivated me from the very beginning. The immense impact of her birth, being an orphan of a “whore” and raised by the main cook of the plantation where she lived, where she was raised not as a daughter, but as a cook aid. Early on we get that Dolores has no family, no friends, no schooling, no roots. It allows us to understand her dependency on Graca, who is the white daughter of the owners of the plantation, not only on their friendship, but rooting her life on her.

In the book, we are witness to Dolores and Graca’s life, in the plantation where their friendship is forced by loneliness and also by camadery and their love and passion for music. The book goes back and forth in time, from their childhood in the plantation, to their teenage years as two girls living poorly in Brazil’s Lapa town working many low paying jobs in pursue of music stardom, to their life in US after been discovered and finding fame, to her life after the early and shocking death of Graca.

I truly enjoyed the characters in the book, from Vinicius the guitarist who becomes her partner in music, and her most important relationship after Graca, to the band of musicians, and other personalities that touch and impact their lives in many ways. All the characters had flaws, but were well developed, and even though some of them had a short appearance in the story, their presence made an impact in their lives, their choices, their fame, and their failure.

This is the second novel of Frances de Pontes Peebles and I am definitely reading her first novel, “the Seamstress” and will read her future books as well. Her writing is absolutely wonderful, I can feel the emotions, I can see the places, I can know the characters, it is all real in her writing and there is so much love, so much sentiment, and so much realism too.

If you are looking for a book full of love, love for music, love for friendships, love for freedom, this is the book for you.

Favorite quotes:

“If remembering tells us who we are, then forgetting keeps us sane. If we recalled every song we’d ever heard, every touch we’d ever felt, every pain no matter how small, every sadness no matter how petty, every joy no matter how selfish, we could surely lose our minds.” 

― Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe

“It’s always easier to think that your intentions are just as important as the outcome, but this isn’t true. The outcome is everything. The outcome is what you live with.” 

― Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe


“In life there are countless firsts and even more lasts. The firsts are easy to recognize; when you’ve never experienced something before – a kiss, a new style of music, a place, a drink, a food – you know exactly when you are encountering it for the first time. But lasts? Lasts nearly always surprise us. It’s only after they’ve disappeared that we realize we’ll never again have that particular moment or person or experience.” 

― Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe

“When we are young, we give ourselves completely. We allow our first friends or first lovers or first songs inside us, to become a part of our unformed being, without ever thinking of the consequences, or of their permanence within us.” 

― Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe

“In the deepest, purest parts of our imaginations there is no male or female, no bad or good, no villain or hero, no you or I. There is only feeling, and the exhilaration of feeling.” 

― Frances de Pontes Peebles, The Air You Breathe

The Highlights of the Book:

The highlight of the book is its story telling style. How the book makes us witness of the journey of Dolores aThe highlight of the book is its storytelling style. How the book makes us witness of the journey of Dolores and Graca for success, how their innocence, their love for music, their love for each other, their longing for fame, their longing to belong to someone, to something, to each other, transformed them, changed them, raised them, and devastated them.

Dolores, due to being an orphan, distrust everyone, including at times Graca and even herself, she distrust their good fortune and their fame. She is more comfortable during hardships as she believes that’s where she belongs, and that is when Graca will need her the most.

Frances de Pontes Peebles writing is beautiful, captivating, it is full of wisdom, but full of innocence at the same time. Her words slide into each other like a waterfall that is meant to drop to a beautiful lagoon. It is sweet, and bitter, it is hopeful and cruel.

The Negatives:

I cannot find a negative to this book. I loved the storyline, loved the characters, the ending just brought the whole story to a delicate and tender end. You feel that you, like Dolores, have reached a destination and are at peace with her and yourself.

Information as found in Amazon:

  • Print Length: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; Reprint edition
  • Publication Date: July 2, 2019
  • Category: Fiction, Coming of Age, Historical
  • Language: English

What are you reading right now? What book would you recomend me? Would you like a personal review to a book? Let me know! I am always looking for recommendations and suggestions to add to my reading list.

Enjoy reading!!!

Published by maripark

Born in Panama in 1980. Got a Naval Architect and Marine Engineering Degree in New Orleans, LA. Married since 2005 and a mom of two wonderful sons. Currently living in Spring, TX. Balancing love, work, my passion to be constantly in pursuit of happiness and mindfulness through my life coach practice.

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