The Air You Breathe is an engrossing tale of two friends in 1930s Brazil brought together by circumstance and music. The following book club questions will have spoilers so if you haven’t read the novel yet, read my preview and review first.
This is a big novel, not just in page numbers (449), but also on a sweeping scale. Dores is a nine-year-old working in the kitchen of a sugar plantation in 1930s. There, she meets Graça, the spoiled daughter of a wealthy sugar baron. Dores and Graça quickly bond over shared mischief, and then, on a deeper level, over music. Music will become their shared passion and the only way out of the life to which each was born. But only one of the two is destined to be a star.
Let’s get into the book club questions
- Let’s first discuss how music bonded Dores and Graça. How did it serve as an escape?
- Samba is very complicated. Why was samba the perfect music choice to represent the violate nature of the relationship between all the characters? In what ways did life imitate art and vice versa?
- Why was Dores so willing to go along with Graça? What was it about Graça that she was so drawn to? What were her blindspots when it came to Graça?
- How did Graça use Dores’ feelings to her advantage?
- Let’s talk about Vinicius, the grounded character. Did he love both Graça and Dores? How did the trio become problematic? What sacrifices did he make to his love of music in order to please both women?
- Graça is presented as talented but extremely selfish and stubborn while Dores is the doormat that won’t stand up for herself. Or so it seems. Let’s talk about areas where Dores was also selfish and wanted fame, too.
- Do you see Dores as the protagonist and Graça the antagonist? Or is the antagonist fame itself?
- When Senhor Pimentel reenters their lives – it all becomes much more complicated. He seems to only use Graça for money and wants her success on his terms. What did you think when Dores went to Madame Lucifer for help? Do you think she was naive on the lengths Madame L would go or do you believe she wasn’t admitting to herself that she wanted him gone?
- Graça takes on the stage name of Sofia Salvador. Let’s talk about the similarities and differences between Sofia Salvador on-stage and filming movies versus when she’s just Graça.
- Why do you think many in the country shunned Graça and tried to make her feel guilty and less of an artist for going to Hollywood?
- While Dores is envious of Graça’s she talent, we find out that Graça wishes she could write music. How did this jealousy of each other impact their friendship?
- Which section of the novel did you enjoy the most – learning to survive in Rio de Janeiro’s Lapa neighborhood and meeting their eventual bandmates and playing samba; working in Hollywood on movies and then back to Brazil. Which one the least?
- During their fateful fight the night Graça dies, what was the significance of her calling Dores the cruel childhood nickname, Jega? Do you think that means Graça never saw them as equals? Or did she say that out of anger?
- Dores goes into a deep depression when Graça and blames herself. Do you think it was partly her fault what happened to Graça or do you think she shouldn’t share blame and the choice was Graça alone?
- We read the story in first-person narrative from Dores. How would the story have been different if Graça would have told the story?
- An interesting component is when tragically Vinicius has alzheimer’s, he seems to remember Graça and is constantly looking for her. And we know that Dores is always thinking about her and even remarks she’s known Graça longer in her imagination than in real life. Why do you think Graça always remained such a big part of their lives?
- Dores tells herself: be careful what you wish for, when reflecting on her life. What did she mean by that?