Taking the cure

In Andrea Barrett's latest novel, The Air We Breathe, she picks up some of her characters from her short story collection, Ship Fever and places them in a sanitarium for tuberculosis patients in the Adirondacks. It's 1916 and the U.S. is about to enter World War I. The patients are mostly European immigrants who share tales of life in their homelands and in the New York tenements. Barrett narrates with a collective "we" which lends a tragic, Greek chorus aura to the story. The plot hinges on the heartbreak of war and dislocation. Barrett is a master of the evocative scene as evidenced in some of her other books in which she masterfully injects scientific knowledge into her narrative.