A sweeping, cinematic and thoroughly engrossing tale about an enduring friendship and the story of samba, is a mighty accomplishment—the kind of novel that demands ample time to write ... A sense of melancholy imbues the tale, but [the protagonist] has a compelling and fascinating voice... her strength and singularity propel this unforgettable novel.
An absolute masterpiece ... Peebles is a master at sustaining dramatic tension, a wizard with intrigue and language, and a skilled curator of intimacy. She knows when to give context... and when to allow a thing to be a thing ... Even more challenging is the ability to be able to create unapologetic antiheroes, which Peebles excels at ... The tension created by these elements—the sociopolitical context, the drama of interpersonal relationships and queerness, and the high-stakes nature of subsisting off art—make a masterful book, sure to enthrall from beginning to end.
A soaring fusion of emotion, intense drama, and the compelling rhythms of Brazilian music, The Air You Breathe belongs to the special category of historical novels that chronicle entire lives – and it does so in enthralling fashion ... an intoxicating performance itself, not to be missed by anyone wanting to be wrapped up in a well-told story.
For years, my gold-standard beach read was David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet ... But for the first time, I've found a competitor in Brazilian-American novelist Frances de Pontes Peebles' historical epic The Air You Breathe. It has even more to offer than Jacob de Zoet: murder, extortion, Hollywood glamor, the entire story of samba, and, of course, sexual longing and an exceptional cast of characters ... The writing, often perfect, can get a bit too glittery. Dores is sometimes prone to big pronouncements about human nature ... In other words, The Air You Breathe sometimes gets corny ... The Air You Breathe is genuinely exciting to watch. Even in its imperfections, it grabs your attention.
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 and 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.
De Pontes Peebles does a marvelous job of evoking the world of samba, which forms the backdrop to the complicated relationship the two women share. Readers who are not daunted by the novel’s length will be rewarded with complex characters and a well-realized setting.
Frances de Pontes Peebles offers a fresh spin on an old story in The Air You Breathe ... [it] offers a look at a moment in time with which many readers may be unfamiliar ... [a] sprawling, lyrical novel ... Like a memorable song, her story is infused with regret, sadness and longing, in this novel that’s a testament to how our earliest experiences can determine the course of our lives.
Peebles presents a captivating if occasionally overstuffed portrait of friendship ... [the novel's structure] allows for a wealth of detail, but the action often slows to a plodding pace, and Peebles is prone to prosaic explanations of the characters’ evolving relationship. Despite this, Dores’s reflections on love, music, envy, and loyalty ache with feeling, and a hint of mystery surrounding the central relationship’s dissolution will keeps readers intrigued until the end.