Cover Image: And Breathe

And Breathe

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Member Reviews

I was offered this book as an ARC via NetGalley and found the premise intriguing. I ended up being very conflicted. There were some glimmers that made me smile such as the randomness of the thoughts that cross your mind when you are in enveloped in silence. The biggest problem with this book for me was that it centered around three different characters on a meditation retreat but even with the names written at the top of the chapters they had a tendency to blur into one another. Personally, I didn't find each character's individual voice to be strong enough. Ivan was the most distinct but I did feel that he didn't really undergo a lot of character growth/movement. There were times when I confused his section with Francis, particularly when he started to think of himself as a spider as earlier in the book I think Francis was removing spiders from his room and would also ruminate on spiders as a potential way to deploy disease. Perhaps the author was trying to use the arachnids as a symbol of how everyone has similar worries but, personally, I don't feel that this has worked and it adds an element of confusion.

There were other minor issues such as the description of Francis' laboratory "fifty scientists, thirty-five women and fifteen men..." I've been to many scientific conferences and worked in a couple of departments and as a woman was always significantly outnumbered. Perhaps this isn't true everywhere but for female scientists to outnumber men at such a ratio seems unusual in my experience. Similarly both Francis and Leiticia are high achieving academic types who delight in reminding themselves on how qualified they are be it top of their class or a double masters etc. Yes high achievers arguable have a greater propensity towards anxiety but there didn't seem to be much evidence of the common "Imposter syndrome" that plagued many of my colleagues. At times I found them both to be patronising and condescending for example Lieticia says "We found the other students prudish and earnest - thinking deeply but not wide enough. They tried, but you could see the mental prisons they were entrenched in... we were far more able to understand the aversion of the non-western world to following the rules of the hegemonic US world order...This pushed our grades that bit higher".  Perhaps she and her friend Anabel should have been running the courses rather than taking them given their elevated intellectual vantage points? Similarly Francis questions whether he is "speaking as a one percent exception of intelligence". For me this book seemed to be written morality/politics first and at times it felt like a long lecture to capture the current zeitgeist. I prefer my stories to be more subtly woven so I don't feel like I am being bashed over the head with politics. Could more of this have been implied? Francis began to merge a little with Leiticia as he contemplates volunteering as a women's refuge (I'm not 100% but my understanding was that they tended to be run by and for women to create environments that women feel comfortable escaping too after traumatic events) as this was a big theme in Leiticia's portions. It also seemed slightly odd that Francis and Leiticia suddenly had sex on a public balcony? (I may have missed the line where they went back into a room but I'm not convinced that I did). This seemed comical after Francis' chosen word was "wholeness", how whole did he truly feel if he needed to have sex less than 24 hours later?

Small things confused me and knocked me out of the story such as Ivan's being betrayed by his childhood friend by signing a document that in fact "it means that my overall stake is below fifty percent and I lose my voting rights. I am voted out of any control by the other shareholders". To my mind the total number of shares needs to total 100% and whilst I can follow that holding less that 50% will allow you to be outvoted on issues, how can having less than 50% lose your voting rights completely? Its a petty point of semantics but it did jolt me out of the story.

I think this book might suffer from unfortunate timing as Ivan is from Kyiv in the Ukraine and does not paint a pleasant picture of Ukrainian society. In normal times, this perspective may not have bothered people however I am reading this at a time when Russian has invaded and Ukraine is featured in the news most days. Public sympathy is currently high for the Ukrainian population and so this may not bode well.
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This was an interesting and unique book, following several characters through the process of their retreat. Each one had a reason to be there, or to not want to be there, and each chapter follows the character through the process they went through as they learn to relax and breathe. Brilliantly written in a way that revealed the character's innermost thoughts and feelings, with a few truths we can take with us about breathing. Also has a bit of mystery and a surprise ending that I didn't see coming.
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Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for an advance copy of the book in return for my honest feedback. The first half I found slow, the pace picked up in the 2nd half. It ended stronger.  I found it a quick easy read.
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I'm breathing while writing this. Breathing is something we do on an automatic basis, this is how we're wired. But what happens when you observe your breaths, when you breathe with the purpose of observing, of discovering, of feeling it all and letting it go. 
The main 3 characters- I loved 2 of them, and I tolerated the third, even though he made me laugh with his impromptu crying. Anyways, this is about breathing and not about the characters, no matter how lovely, or brutal their reasons to go to Thailand and breathe may be. Let's not waste our breath on trying to explain why this book was good, let's just breathe and read it, again.
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Welp, this novel should come with trigger warnings. In the first few pages there is a rape which is not intimated by the blurb. Did not finish, so cannot honestly review or rate.
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