The Air We Breathe: A Novel [NOOK Book]

Overview

"An evocative panorama of America...on the cusp of enormous change" (Newsday) by the National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever.


In the fall of 1916, America prepares for war—but in the community of Tamarack Lake, the focus is on the sick. Wealthy tubercular patients live in private cure cottages; charity patients, mainly immigrants, fill the large public sanatorium. Prisoners of routine, they take solace in gossip, rumor, and—sometimes—secret attachments. But when the ...
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The Air We Breathe: A Novel

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Overview

"An evocative panorama of America...on the cusp of enormous change" (Newsday) by the National Book Award-winning author of Ship Fever.


In the fall of 1916, America prepares for war—but in the community of Tamarack Lake, the focus is on the sick. Wealthy tubercular patients live in private cure cottages; charity patients, mainly immigrants, fill the large public sanatorium. Prisoners of routine, they take solace in gossip, rumor, and—sometimes—secret attachments. But when the well-meaning efforts of one enterprising patient lead to a tragic accident and a terrible betrayal, the war comes home, bringing with it a surge of anti-immigrant prejudice and vigilante sentiment. Reading group guide included.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780393067286
  • Publisher: Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
  • Publication date: 10/17/2008
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 452,982
  • File size: 435 KB

Meet the Author

Andrea Barrett
Andrea Barrett is the author of The Air We Breathe, Servants of the Map (finalist for the Pulitzer Prize), The Voyage of the Narwhal, Ship Fever (winner of the National Book Award), and other books. She teaches at Williams College and lives in northwestern Massachusetts.

Biography

Andrea Barrett combines, as the critic Michiko Kakutani put it, "a naturalist's eye with a novelist's imagination." For the award-winning novelist and short-story writer, natural science, particularly nineteenth-century natural history, is a central preoccupation, and scientists and naturalists such as Linnaeus, Darwin, and Mendel frequently figure in her work. Barrett herself, however, gave up the study of science shortly after completing an undergraduate degree in biology. She entered a Ph.D. program in zoology but dropped out during the first semester.

Yet the way Barrett writes is, perhaps, her own brand of science; it involves long hours of research and the painstaking distillation of historical fact into historically accurate fiction. By her own admission, Barrett is an obsessive researcher: "Often for a story, I will do enough research to write a couple of novels, and for a novel I'll do enough research to have written an encyclopedia," she said in an interview in The Atlantic. But in the end, she adds, "fiction is about the characters, the image, the language, the poetry, the sound; it isn't about information. The information has to be distilled down to let us focus on what's really going on with the people."

Barrett didn't start writing fiction in earnest until her thirties, and she labored in comparative obscurity until 1996. Then, with four novels already behind her, she won the National Book Award for her first collection of short stories, Ship Fever. The collection explores the romantic and intellectual passions of a variety of historical and fictional characters, from an aging Linnaeus to a pair of contemporary marine biologists. In it, "science is transformed from hard and known fact into malleable, strange and thrilling fictional material," said the Boston Globe.

The book's success launched Barrett into the literary limelight, where her reputation continued to grow. Her next book, The Voyage of the Narwhal, tells the story of a doomed scientific voyage to the Arctic in 1855. The writer Thomas Mallon called it "a brilliant reversal of Heart of Darkness: the danger is not that the characters will 'go native,' but that a lust for scientific knowledge and intellectual distinction will drive them to cruelties they would have been incapable of before."

Recently, Barrett's work has begun to feature recurring characters, some of them related to one another. In another collection of stories, Servants of the Map, several characters from Ship Fever reappear, as does the ship cook from The Voyage of the Narwhal. As Barrett follows the trajectory of their lives and relationships, it is increasingly apparent how attuned she is to the emotional lives, as well as the intellectual lives, of her characters. As Barry Unsworth wrote in The New York Times Book Review, Barrett captures "that blend of precision and appropriateness that has always characterized the best prose, an attentiveness to the truth of human feeling that is in itself a supremely civilized value."

Good To Know

When she isn't writing, Barrett plays African percussion with a group of musicians in Rochester, N.Y. The group includes her husband, the biologist Barry Goldstein.
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Customer Reviews

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( 13 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 13 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 17, 2012

    Meh

    Couldnt get through the sample

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted November 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of my favorite reads in long while

    The patients of the fictional state-funded Tamarack Sanatorium for TB victims narrate this book as one voice, the voice of "we," a collective first-person omniscient narrator. This tender, poignant voice recalls the years of WWI. Although none of the patients were firm enough to do active service in the war, their story is a touching portrait of how war affects everyone. Leo, the beautifully drawn central character, is only twenty-six when he is placed in the sanatorium. A Russian immigrant with a chemistry background, he has no family and has been unable to find work worthy of his talents and education in America. In the sanatorium the other patients and staff seem drawn to him, but he is shy and quiet. Why is he so secretive? I loved the characters and the historical context woven through the plot. I also enjoyed thoughtful antithesis of ideas--open discussion vs suspicious rumors, scientific progress for good (X-rays) vs scientific progress for evil (poisonous gas warfare), community identity vs individuality. This novel is great reading and would be wonderful for a book club.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 3, 2007

    A reviewer

    This is an excellent book. Learning about life in those times, at TB institutions, and the character development was extraordinary. It was very emotional at times and I could actually feel what the people were feeling as everything was described so eloquently. This book really held my interest and I've been so bored lately with most 'best sellers'.

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