The Air You Breathe
by Frances de Pointes Peebles
Riverhead Books. 464 pages, $26.
AS WHOOPI GOLDBERG said of Julia Roberts, “Julia Roberts was not always Julia Roberts.” Similarly, Carmen Miranda was not always Carmen Miranda, as revealed in The Air You Breathe, Frances de Pointes Peebles’ near-epic novel about the fruit-wearing singer and film star of the 1930s and ‘40s. Miranda is the character “Graça” in the book, the spoiled daughter of a Brazilian sugar plantation owner. Her voice has a seductive allure and she has the confidence to vamp onstage. It is Dores, however, the fifth bastard of a farmhand, who is the narrator of this fascinating novel. Dores is the woman behind the woman.