Book Review – Coming up for Air by Sarah Leipciger

Dear Readers,

Do you have CPR certificate? Do you have First Aid cert? I do. I’ve done it numerous times throughout my working life. And have never for the life of me paid any attention to the face of the mannequin trainers used to show us how to administer CPR.

Moverover, to take such a mundane, accidental story as the story of CPR manequin face and to build it and weave it into something magical… one needs to be a witch or a wizard of human soul. Coming Up For Air by Sarah Leipciger is such a story.


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 transformative invention, all the way to present-day Canada, where a journalist battling a terrible disease, drowning in her own lungs, risks everything for one last chance to live.

Moving effortlessly across time and space and taking inspiration from an incredible true story, Coming Up for Air is a bold, richly imagined novel about love, loss, and the immeasurable impact of every human life.


Three stories. Three bodies of water. Three drownings. One would think how it can all be connected and weaved into one story with the begining and the end…. But it can.

All three stories are about loss and drowning, looking for salvation and finding it in the most unexpected places.

End of 19th century and girls kills herself by jumping into Seine. Her face ends up on a mask. Mask ends up all over the world.

Middle of 20th Century, a father loses his boy to the lake. Father makes toys. Father explores plastics’ capabilities. Mask of the drowned French L’Inconnue de la Seine girl ends up in his hands… and ends up on the face of Resusci Anne

21 century Canada a girl drowns in her lungs but finds escape and muddy haven between the banks of river.

Coming Up For Air is about looking to breathe. It is about unseemly, ugly but so real layers of human life and existence from coughing up flem to placenta and morning sickness, from mud of the river floor to freezing salt of North Sea.

This book is a very heavy and emotionally-draining. It is very much ‘in your face’ and ‘through your heart’. All three stories take out chunks of your soul. They are as much about the characters as they are about flows and currents, colours of the water and scent of death.

This read has proven to be engrossing and disgusting, in places and for that even more engrossing. The characters are not afraid of pain and do not shy away from miniscular details of drowning, death and decay.

‘… life may be rich and long or it may be tedious. It may be a disaster – it’s a gamble. But the only certainty is that will end, and when it does, you find yourself the river again. River is life and death both’.

Coming Up For Air is a magical story of unknown woman who lives for eternity and beyond only because she’s drown and is now rescuing others drowing in water or otherwise. Having finished this read one would need to be coming up for air.

I gave this book 5 stars.

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