2009 One Read Winner: About Andrea Barrett and “The Air We Breathe”

About the Author

Andrea BarrettAndrea Barrett did not start out to be a fiction writer; she wanted to be a scientist. “I really wanted to be Darwin in a skirt wandering through the Galapagos or the Amazon naming birds and trees,” she says. Instead, Barrett has translated her fascination with science and the natural world into award-winning novels and short stories. Barrett is especially drawn to the history of exploration and the suffering men and women were willing to endure in the pursuit of knowledge. The “Voyage of the Narwhal” (1998) tells of a harrowing expedition to the Arctic, while in the title story from “Ship Fever,” a doctor struggles through a typhus epidemic.

Born in 1954, Andrea Barrett grew up on Cape Cod and studied biology at Union College in Schenectady. She now lives with her husband in western Massachusetts, where she teaches at Williams College. She has published six novels and two story collections, “Ship Fever,” for which she won the 1996 National Book Award for fiction, and “Servants of the Map” (2002), a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her awards include fellowships from MacArthur Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Biographical info compiled from the following sources: Seattle Arts & Lectures, Reading Group Guides, Library of Congress.

Also by Andrea Barrett

About the Book

Air We BreatheBarrett”s 2007 work, “The Air We Breathe,” is her sixth novel. In it, she weaves a tale of tuberculosis patients and passion against the backdrop of World War I. The novel was partly inspired by the research Barrett did for her story “The Cure” in “Servants of the Map.” “While I was researching that story, I got really curious about the big public sanitariums where people who didn”t have any money or families got sent,” Barrett told Sarah Seltzer in a Publishers Weekly interview.

Set in the Adirondacks of upstate New York in 1916, the novel is told in the first person plural and features four main protagonists: wealthy cement-plant owner Miles Fairchild, who is staying at a private guesthouse away from the sanitarium; Leo Marburg, a Polish-German immigrant at the sanitarium; young Naomi, who is Miles”s driver; and the ­­­­ward nurse and friend of Naomi’s, Eudora. While Miles takes a fancy for Eudora Naomi, she does not return the affection, but is in love with Leo. However, Leo in turn has a secret yearning for Eudora. This tangled love quartet ultimately leads to tragedy when Miles becomes a super-patriot as the U.S. prepares to enter the war, and foreigners of all stripes come under scrutiny.

– Contemporary Authors Online, 2009, Cengage Learning

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