The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles
Following the story of two girls, one a slave on a sugar plantation in Brazil and the other the heiress of the plantation, as they run away together because they don’t have any control over their lives, this was a fascinating look into a time and a setting I’ve never read about before. Taking their dreams of being singers into Rio, the girls eke their way to the top of the samba scene through determination, luck, pragmatism, and talent, although some important things ended up being compromised or lost along the way. They find themselves in America as goodwill ambassadors and film guests, and there they realize their choices have caught up with them.
Exploring what friendship, duty, and love mean, especially once you can’t unwind the clock, this book was lyrical, tender, harsh, and overall very sad. I thought the first half could have been condensed into two or three chapters, instead of 300 pages, and I’m a happy endings kind of gal, which the flash forwards let you know from the get go wasn’t the plan with this story, but I did very much enjoy the time, the history, and the setting.