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Coming Up for Air

3.91  ·  Rating details ·  722 ratings  ·  174 reviews
Three extraordinary lives intertwine across oceans and centuries.

On the banks of the River Seine in 1899, a heartbroken young woman takes her final breath before plunging into the icy water. Although she does not know it, her decision will set in motion an astonishing chain of events. It will lead to 1950s Norway, where a grieving toymaker is on the cusp of a transformativ
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published March 19th 2020 by Doubleday (first published March 3rd 2020)
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Average rating 3.91  · 
Rating details
 ·  722 ratings  ·  174 reviews

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Apr 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Sarah Leipciger writes a beautifully imagined novel of life, love, loss, grief, sorrow and despair, intertwining the themes of air, the precious breath of life itself, water, death, and mortality. She weaves fact and fiction into her delicate connections between the L'Inconnue de la Seine, the unknown young woman who commits suicide in the River Seine in 1899, a Norwegian toy maker working in soft plastics in the 1950s, Pieter Akrehamn, hollowed out by grief from the loss of his beloved little b ...more
Amalia Gkavea
''The Highlands is a melancholic place. The mountains are almost always hidden in mist and the tongues of blue that lick the sky are watery and fleeting, but there is a ballad to the landscape that exists in everything. In the wind, you can hear battle. The bog that sucks keenly at your boots has memory.''

Water has always fascinated the human race, with its unpredictable nature and mysticism. Water is the source of life, a wondrous barrier that separates and, at the same time, unites countrie
Mar 15, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5000-2020
Next time I go to update my CPR certificate I will look at the resuscitation dummy in a totally different way. Who knew that her face is derived from the death mask of an unknown suicide victim in Paris in 1899. Fact - and her fictional story is just part of this beautiful book.

Three stories are told in all, each loosely linked by the themes of water and drowning. As well as the imagined life of the beautiful French girl we read about a toymaker in Norway who, in the 1950's, used her death mask
Emer (A Little Haze)
Simply stunning.

This book takes three disparate stories all linked by a theme of water and drowning and somehow creates this beautifully moving narrative that I completely lost myself in as I was reading.

The book takes poetic licence with the story of L'Inconnue de la Seine who is an unidentified young woman whose body was pulled out of the River Seine in Paris around the 1880s. Her death mask became popular among artists and writers, and ultimately her face was used as the model for the face
Mar 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
‘How to breathe. How to save. Everyone knows this face. It’s always been her and it will always be.’

I have been so moved by this novel. Though each of the storylines dealt with difficult situations there was always an underlining feeling of hope. I never found myself rushing through one story to get to the next, because they were equally engaging. I was really looking forward to seeing how the stories converged and think it was done remarkably well. Leipcigars writing was beautiful and I look fo
Mar 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Coming Up for Air is Ms Leipcigar’s sophomore novel and is a masterfully crafted piece of historical fiction, inspired by a true story, that thematically links the lives of three people who had no idea of each other’s existence. Connected by water and breathing the narrative spans a century and begins in 1899 when an unidentified woman is pulled from the River Seine in Paris, France, having drowned after jumping in a successful suicide bid; she became known as L’Inconnue de la Seine. She was fou ...more
More like a 2.5 I think? This just didn't grab me. RTC. ...more
Claire Fuller
Three fascinating and beautifully written lives that revolve round swimming, and come together with the mask of L'Inconnue - the woman who supposedly died in the Seine and whose death mask was used as the model for resuscitation dummies. Leipciger writes wonderfully about nature and especially wild swimming, and the details of people's lives. Tragic, moving and hopeful.

Thanks to the publisher for the proof.
Sarah O'Riordan | travelseatsreads
I was really intrigued by the concept of this book and liked the idea of the 3 stories being linked by water/a struggle for air. Sadly I found quite quickly that the story lines were quite stagnant, with long drawn out chapters about nothing in particular. That on top of a needlessly brutal and gratuitous section about a violent death of a deer, means a very rare 1 star from me.
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was ok
Depressive. Bleak and stark. Immense description oozing effusion. Some deep and animal live passages. Dead one as well. As a swimmer who loves water in nature with all its muck and critters? I get it. But not a style for any sense to adhesive cohesive whole. And beyond cruel negativity as acceptable? Author's work reminds me of some stuff I've read by other famous suicides. ...more
Coming up for air by Sarah Leipciger is three stories in one. The main one it’s 1899 of the banks of the River Seine a heartbroken woman jumps into icy river to her death which, causes a series of events later. A Toy maker in 1950 Norway near a breakthrough of invention that changes people’s lives and present-day Canada a journalist with Cistus Fibrosis is drowning in her own lungs and does everything to try and live.
Even though I found this book to be well written, I just got so annoyed that ev
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Sarah Leipciger weaves three strands of a story together. Perhaps the most successful is the tale of L'Inconnue de la Seine, an unidentified young woman whose body was pulled out of the River Seine in Paris. and whose death mask was the model for those resuscitation dummies used to practice CPR. Also interesting is the story of Anouk, a young Canadian with cystic fibrosis. Not engaging is the Norwegian strand, about a toymaker whose creates those CPR models after his little son drowns.

All three
Susan Hampson
Mar 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: netgalley
Three lives of three people that never knew each other but are still connected with a theme. The story spans a hundred years and tragically begins in 1899 as a young woman plunges into the icy water of the River Seine to take her own life. She didn't know of course how famous her face would become. In real life, the identity of the young woman was never discovered but the author gives her a fictional life of what could have lead to her being unable to carry on. Her drowning is intimately describ ...more
Gill Paul
Jul 19, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was hooked from the first page of this glorious novel by the description of a woman clambering onto a bridge over the Seine by night and tumbling headlong into the water. The descriptions of water, air and darkness are so perfect that you know you are in the hands of a great writer, but it’s the story, not the prose, that keeps you reading, needing to know…
There are three narratives: that of the woman in Paris in the 1890s, of Pieter, a toy manufacturer who is raising his young family in Norwa
Marie (UK)
I received an ARC copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It is difficult to rate this book which has 3 viable and essentially interesting narratives but absolutely no connective tissue joining them. I struggled even to get through the text until I decided it just wasn't necessary to work out what the author was trying to say (because whatever it was she was making a complete hash of it), but simply to follow the disparate story lines. I understand the book is based on truth - my que ...more

Visit the locations in the novel

There’s not a book for a while that has moved me quite as much as this one. A book about drowning, needing to breath yet finding you can’t, a story of surviving and existing rather than living.

It starts with the most stark image of all – a woman who drowns on the banks of the Seine. Little do they know, but so many lives will be affected by this act and this woman, and what happens next. Stories told from 1899, 1950’s and to the present day.

For what happened next
My thanks to Random House U.K. Transworld for an eARC via NetGalley of ‘Coming Up for Air’ by Sarah Leipciger. It was published in March 2020.

This novel is quite subtle. It relates three stories, separated by time and space. It is air, the ability to breathe, that obviously links them though as the tales develop a stronger connection is revealed.

Standing on the banks of the River Seine in 1899, L'Inconnue, the unknown woman, takes one final breath before plunging into the icy water. In 1950s No
Nov 05, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In Coming Up for Air, three very different lives are connected by a true story. Anouk in present day Canada has cystic fibrosis and is waiting for a lung transplant. Pieter, a Norwegian toymaker suffers a tragedy in the 1950s which sets him of on the course of a transformative invention. Finally, there is the woman who links them, L’Inconnue, the Unknown Woman who drowns in the river Seine in 1899.
The chapters jump between the three main characters with different viewpoints and timeframes. Each
Mar 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Historical fiction entwined with fact. Three stories so beautifully written powerful and emotive. They span the years starting in 1899 to the present day. Each story is a little gem on its own. This book is pure gold. I have never read this author before and she is definitely one to watch. After reading this book I definitely had to come up for air. I was completely immersed, this book deserves more than five stars and so Highly Recommended.
Thanks to Random House UK and Netgalley for the ARC.
Shelley Gibbs
Jul 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Captivating and beautiful. Three different storylines, decades apart, loosely connected by a true story, but more powerfully connected by the themes of swimming, drowning, breath, life, and death.
Oct 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Coming Up For Air spans time and continents to give three separate stories pulled together by a common thread. Whimsically, I expected the characters of the stories to meet or link together in some way but the book is not written as a light-hearted fairy tale, it has such depth and intelligence and took me to places of harsh reality, atmosphere and emotion. Each is linked by water, breathing, death and grief.

Sarah Leipciger is a skilful writer and has created an unforgettable story superbly writ
Kath Middleton
Jan 22, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars
This book contains a kernel or two of truth and historical fact, explained at the end. It’s concerned with breathing, or the inability to do so. There are three main protagonists and we dip into each story. It can be a little disorientating as these individuals’ stories also move up and down their timeline so you need your wits about you. Each chapter is clearly marked with ‘who’ and ‘when’. The writing can be hugely evocative but also a bit jerky – sentence fragments etc. However, the
Rob Twinem
Feb 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
What a beautiful book. 3 captivating stories set in different times and different locations. They are all connected but in a most unusual and joyous way. A very original read highly recommended. Many thanks to the good people at netgalley for a gratis copy in exchange for an honest review and that is what I have written.
Andrea Hicks
Jan 29, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Thank you to Sarah Leipciger, Random House, and NetGalley for the ARC of Coming Up For Air.
Deeply moving and beautifully written. A stunning three part story linked by river water and an incredible sense of loss and rejuvenation. Superb!
David Harris
Mar 30, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I'm grateful to the publisher and to NetGalley for a free advance e-copy of this book.

And now for something (for me) completely different.

Coming Up For Air tells three stories, taking place in late 19th century Paris, mid-20th century Norway and late20th/ early 21st century Canada.

We see a young woman - never named, she is literally referred to as L'Inconnue (the Unknown Woman) - travel to Paris and take up a post as companion to Madame Debord, a suspicious ('She may have been paranoid but she w
Apr 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
This is an unusual book. It ties together a number of stories in a way that is original and based partly on fact. In 1899 a young girl jumps off a bridge into the Seine. The events that led her to this act form part of a narrative. Anouk is a journalist who has spent her life gasping for air as she is suffering from Cystic Fibrosis & frequently feels as if she us drowning. A toy maker who is at the forefront of using mould able plastics works long hours to try & forget the loss of his son to dro ...more
Steph Warren
Apr 11, 2020 rated it really liked it
*I received a free ARC of this book, with thanks to the author, Transworld Books – Random House UK and NetGalley. The decision to review and my opinions are my own.*

There are three separate stories tied together in Coming Up for Air by the common themes of water, drowning, air and resuscitation.

We begin with an anonymous girl in France, drowning herself by jumping into the Seine. The story then tracks back over the events in her life that led her to that tipping point, whilst keeping her identit
Melanie Lewis
Mar 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
There's no doubt this is a beautifully written, almost lyrical book. There is no central theme. There isn't one main event the story is centred around. Instead we get accounts of 4 seemingly disparate people and their very different lives. I was waiting to see at what point their stories would merge, and, no spoilers here, that does and also doesn't eventually happen! If that's confusing then you'll have to read the book yourself to see. I enjoyed it very much and even though it wasn't in any wa ...more
Jo-anne Atkinson
Apr 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
In 1898 in Paris an unnamed woman starts a new life. In post-War Norway a father converses with his dead son. in Canada young parents come to terms with the fact that their daughter has a terrible inherited condition. The woman in Paris loves and loses and throws herself off a bridge into the river. The Norwegian, a toymaker, develops realistic soft-plastic and is asked to collaborate on a piece of medical equipment. The Canadian woman risks all for a chance at a longer life.
These three stories
Aug 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
4.5, v immersive and surprising and i thought it was great
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Sarah Leipciger was born in Peterborough, Canada. She spent her teenage years in Toronto, later moving to Vancouver Island to study Creative Writing and English literature at the University of Victoria. Leipciger left Canada in 2001 for Korea and South East Asia, and currently lives in London with her three children, where she teaches creative writing to men in prison. She is also a Creative Writi ...more

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