The Air We Breathe

The Air We Breathe

“An evocative panorama of America… on the cusp of enormous change.” — Newsday

The Air We Breathe


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.


“A marvel of intelligent design, and a truly original cautionary tale, from one of the most interesting and unconventional of all contemporary American writers.” — Kirkus (starred review)

“Barrett’s artistry consists of a near-perfect equipoise between smooth storytelling and the suggestion of larger truths.” — Newsday

“Barrett’s writing has a quality of reflective mildness, a restraint which some might call quiet…. There is an elegance of tone, but an enormous amount happens. The Air We Breathe is turbulent and dramatic, full of longing and death and lust, the yearning to cover one’s own life and way in the world.” — Boston Globe

“A large cast of characters comes to vivid life…. [Barrett] allows the murmuring voices of those who have watched and judged the main characters to swell into a single epiphany of regret and contrition…. This rueful Bildungsroman… boldly replaces the conventional saga of a callow youth’s education with the drama of a group of fallible adults who, buffeted by ugly political winds unloosed by a far-off war, betray their best instincts but are mature enough to eventually acknowledge their mistake. Barrett draws no facile parallels, but American readers will find uncomfortable contemporary resonance in her historical novel.” — Los Angeles Times

“Details of New York tenements and of the sanitarium’s regime are vivid and engrossing.” — Publishers Weekly


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