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Bel Canto

A book about Opera and Terrorism by Ann Patchett

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Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

  • Jan 10, 2010
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Rating:
+4
 In a small South American country a party is being held in honor of an important Japanese businessman.  Roxanne Coss, a famous opera singer, has been hired to sing at the party in order to persuade Mr. Hosokawa, the businessman, to attend – the party’s hosts are hoping that Hosokawa will decide to build a factory in this country.  Just as the Roxanne is finishing her opening sequence, the lights in the building shut off and eighteen terrorists enter the mansion, looking for the president – who has, unfortunately, decided not to attend the event.  When the terrorists realize that they are not going to get what they came for, a hostage situation occurs – fifty-eight important people from around the world, including the opera singer and the Japanese businessman, are trapped inside the house with these terrorists for an indefinite period of time.  As the stand-off occurs, unexpected friendships, bonds, and even romantic relationships form inside the mansion.  But the situation clearly cannot last forever, something has to give – will it be the terrorists, or the government of this country?

That summary was not easy for me to write because while Bel Canto has a somewhat simple premise, there is so much more to the novel than just the fact that it is a hostage situation.  And that’s what makes it so difficult to talk about, too, there are so many layers here and I don’t think I can properly explain my feelings on the book.  But I’ll certainly try.

There are so many wonderful things about Bel Canto. I was expecting a lot from the book, and I actually think it defied my expectations.  What absolutely kept the story moving for me was the different characters I was able to fall in love with.  Patchett really brought these people to life for me – from Mr. Hosokawa, to Roxanne, to Gen, to Carmen – every person in the book was written with a truly distinct voice and I loved them all.  The relationships between them were what made the book so special.  In spite of the terror they were all feeling, they formed these deep bonds and intense friendships and even fell in love … and it was just such a joy to read about them.  I especially enjoyed when we got a little peek into the terrorists’ minds.  Understandably so, the reader wasn’t given much from inside their heads, but there was enough to understand that most of them were just as scared and confused as the hostages were.  Many of the terrorists were young, under eighteen even, and were just doing what their superiors has told them to do – and living in the mansion during this time was the most luxurious life they could have ever hoped to have.  It was no wonder they weren’t anxious to see the situation come to an end.

I don’t want to spoil anything, so I won’t talk about who with who, but I will say that there were two significant romantic relationships in Bel Canto that really solidified towards the end, and these two were my absolute favorite things about the book.  I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough as I read more about these people and the love they had found in this unexpected place.

Obviously eighteen terrorists and fifty-eight hostages cannot live together in the vice president’s mansion in love and harmony forever.  While reading the book, it was quite clear that this situation would end at some point – and it was also clear that the end would not be pretty.  So there was this ominous feeling throughout the novel that really got into my bones when I was reading it.  In the back of my mind, no matter what was happening in the story, I constantly felt this vibe that something Very Bad would occur.  Soon.  While it made me uncomfortable to feel this way, especially as I was falling more and more in love with the characters, the feeling really propelled me to keep turning the pages.  At certain points throughout the novel, I literally could not stop reading.  It was all I could do to read slowly and savor the book.

And Bel Canto is a book that deserves to be savored.  Because Patchett is a master of her craft – really, her writing is divine.  The way she put the story together and got into these characters’ heads, and did it all with beautiful phrases to be savored, she truly amazed me.  The only thing about Bel Canto I did not like was the ending… and not because it wasn’t a good ending, because it was, but it made me cry and it made me very, very sad and other than that I don’t want to spoil it.

Bel Canto is a wonderful book that I highly recommend.  It is a novel that will stay with me for a long time.

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January 15, 2010
Wow, what a well-written and thoughtful review. Thanks for sharing this. I actually picked this book up a couple of years ago and started it, but for some reason I never got through it. You've inspired me to dig it out again! I'm sharing this on Twitter so my friends can read about this too!
 
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More Bel Canto reviews
review by . June 27, 2010
How Can A Story So Tragic Be So Beautiful? This is a book to read and re-read, and savor. I love the textures of the writing, how the emotions for the kidnappers build to the point of true friendship and empathy. The ending broke my heart."A South American Country" has courted business tycoon, Katsumi Hosokawa, for some time, hoping for investment in their struggling country. Finally, Mr. Hosokawa agrees to celebrate his birthday at the home of the vice-president after the invitation includes …
Quick Tip by . July 11, 2010
LOVE this! The intersection of guerrilla fighters/revolutionaries with the world of opera and high art was riveting. Very philosophical, but character-based. Good when you're in the mood for thoughtful reading rather than fast action.
Quick Tip by . July 02, 2010
I read this book for a Book Club I was in. Wasn't expecting to like it as much as I did.
Quick Tip by . June 27, 2010
sophie loves this book
Quick Tip by . June 10, 2010
Very good!
Quick Tip by . June 09, 2010
Very well-written, but the plot drags in some parts.
review by . November 17, 2008
Bel Canto
Bel Canto is one of those novels that is good on so many levels, it's taken me days after finishing it to put my thoughts about the story and the characters into words. This work is as lyrical and dramatic as any opera, and the word "brilliant" isn't excessive to describe the talent of author, Ann Patchett. I wondered how she came up with such a remarkable and unique story, but then learned she'd been influenced by actual events involving a hostage situation in Peru. Patchett goes far beyond the …
review by . December 03, 2003
When Ann Patchett came to the college where I work on staff to give a reading to our students, I attended. The room was packed and bursting to the seams. Her book had been assigned as part of a summer reading program for incoming freshman, discussed in groups, now discussed with the author herself, and all concluding with her reading. It was a delight. Many authors who write well do not read well, but Patchett does both - and very well. Bel Canto is a simple enough story (and those are always the …
review by . November 22, 2002
I resisted reading Ann Patchett's BEL CANTO because it seemed that the recommendations came primarily from readers who don't want anything more in a book than a romantic escape from today. Now I'm wondering what is so wrong with that sort of recommendation! BEL CANTO is a good read: it captures your interest, creates a microcosm, populates the pages with people you would like to know, and keeps its story confined to one place so that the afterburn of the tale can be appreciated. Patchett knows how …
review by . August 04, 2002
As art imitates life, so would a group of strangers enjoy the bounty and joyful camaraderie of the most simple activities. An assortment of dignitaries, most unknown to eachother, gather for a birthday celebration in an unnamed South American country, in honor of Mr. Hosokawa, a Japanese CEO. For his entertainment, the hosts have imported an extraordinary opera diva, his favorite soprano, Roxanne Coss. Her performance stuns the audience, the power and beauty of her voice astonishing. The lights …
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Heather O'Roark ()
Ranked #624
Member Since: Dec 19, 2009
Last Login: Dec 11, 2010 01:43 AM UTC
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In an unnamed South American country, a world-renowned soprano sings at a birthday party in honor of a visiting Japanese industrial titan. His hosts hope that Mr. Hosokawa can be persuaded to build a factory in their Third World backwater. Alas, in the opening sequence, just as the accompanist kisses the soprano, a ragtag band of 18 terrorists enters the vice-presidential mansion through the air conditioning ducts. Their quarry is the president, who has unfortunately stayed home to watch a favorite soap opera. And thus, from the beginning, things go awry.

Among the hostages are not only Hosokawa and Roxane Coss, the American soprano, but an assortment of Russian, Italian, and French diplomatic types. Reuben Iglesias, the diminutive and gracious vice president, quickly gets sideways of the kidnappers, who have no interest in him whatsoever. Meanwhile, a Swiss Red Cross negotiator named Joachim Messner is roped into service while vacationing. He comes and goes, wrangling over terms and demands, and the days stretch into weeks, the weeks into months.

With the omniscience of magic realism, Ann Patchett flits in and out of the hearts and psyches of hostage and terrorist alike, and in doing so reveals a profound, shared humanity. Her voice is suitably lyrical, melodic, full of warmth and compassion. Hearing opera sung live for the first time, a young priest reflects:

Never had he thought, never once, that such a woman existed, one who stood so close to God that God's own ...
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Details

ISBN-10: 0060934417
ISBN-13: 978-0060934415
Author: Ann Patchett
Genre: Fiction
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Date Published: April 16, 2002
First to Review
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