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Bel Canto [Kindle Edition]

Ann Patchett
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,110 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“Blissfully Romantic….A strange, terrific, spellcasting story.” — San Francisco Chronicle

Bel Canto…should be on the list of every literate music lover. The story is riveting, the participants breathe and feel and are alive, and throughout this elegantly-told novel, music pours forth so splendidly that the reader hears it and is overwhelmed by its beauty.” —Lloyd Moss, WXQR

“Glorious.” —The New Yorker

Ann Pratchett’s award winning, New York Times bestselling Bel Canto balances themes of love and crisis as disparate characters learn that music is their only common language. As in Patchett’s other novels, including Truth & Beauty and The Magician’s Assistant, the author’s lyrical prose and lucid imagination make Bel Canto a captivating story of strength and frailty, love and imprisonment, and an inspiring tale of transcendent romance.

Editorial Reviews Review

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 voice poured from her. How far she must have gone inside herself to call up that voice. It was as if the voice came from the center part of the earth and by the sheer effort and diligence of her will she had pulled it up through the dirt and rock and through the floorboards of the house, up into her feet, where it pulled through her, reaching, lifting, warmed by her, and then out of the white lily of her throat and straight to God in heaven.
Joined by no common language except music, the 58 international hostages and their captors forge unexpected bonds. Time stands still, priorities rearrange themselves. Ultimately, of course, something has to give, even in a novel so imbued with the rich imaginative potential of magic realism. But in a fractious world, Bel Canto remains a gentle reminder of the transcendence of beauty and love. --Victoria Jenkins

From Library Journal

Opera and terrorism make strange bedfellows, yet in this novel they complement each other nicely. At a birthday party for Japanese industrialist Mr. Hosokawa somewhere in South America, famous American soprano Roxanne Coss is just finishing her recital in the Vice President's home when armed terrorists appear, intending to take the President hostage. However, he is not there, so instead they hold the international businesspeople and diplomats at the party, releasing all the women except Roxanne. Captors and their prisoners settle into a strange domesticity, with the opera diva captivating them all as she does her daily practicing. Soon romantic liaisons develop with the hopeless intensity found in many opera plots. Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars) balances terrorism, love, and music nicely here. Anna Fields has a pleasant voice and reads clearly, although she doesn't differentiate among the characters especially well. The tape quality is excellent. Recommended for large public libraries. Nancy R. Ives, SUNY at Geneseo
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Product Details

  • File Size: 429 KB
  • Print Length: 336 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0060934417
  • Publisher: HarperCollins e-books (March 17, 2009)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000FC10S4
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #7,529 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
390 of 420 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful! May 14, 2003
"Bel Canto" is a beautifully written story of unlikely love and secret desires. Do not be put off by the barebones plot--a group of people at a party taken hostage by South American terrorists. And do not think you are in for a routine "put a bunch of strangers in a room and then learn their life stories" sort of saga. Patchett gathers together a group that spans nationalities, professions and class and reveals the hidden depths, sometimes in a few short pages, through their interactions with each other.
Take the Russian minister of commerce--portrayed as something of a buffoon who has fallen in love with Roxane, the opera singer. He screws up his courage to declare himself--which must be done through Gen, the translator. What he says to her is completely unexpected--a wonderful story of his childhood and an art book. He declares himself a man who appreciates beauty and therefore worthy to love her, and asks nothing in return. Meanwhile we see into the heart of Gen the translator, as he awkwardly acts as intermediary he realizes he has never told anyone that he loves them, not a woman, not family, not his mother--he feels as if his life has been to act as a conduit for the thoughts and feelings of others, that he has never experienced a real life of his own. Then there is the relationship of Mr. Hosokawa and Roxane, who do not share a common language. Is it possible to love a person to whom you cannot speak?
I loved the transformation of the characters that occurs--the Vice President of the country dreams of adopting one of the young terrorists and becoming a gardener, another terrorist uncovers his great gift as a singer, a buttoned up Japanese businessman becomes Roxane's accompianist, the young priest becomes a gifted and courageous spiritual counselor.
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170 of 186 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing, lyrical, improbable, flawed June 14, 2002
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In this PEN/Faulker award winning novel, Ann Patchett has created an intriguing and poetic tale based (loosely) on a real hostage taking episode that occurred in Peru in April 1997. *Bel Canto* succeeds in revealing the common humanity that persists behind the oppositional roles and stances shaped by social and political structures beyond our individual control. In these times of wars on terrorism and terrorist wars, this story emphasizes that even the most superficially frightening political fanatics ultimately are human beings with personalities, hopes, dreams, and reasons why, and for that reason alone the novel is well worth reading.
In terms of style and texture, Patchett has endeavored to compose a work that is lyrical and "magical," and she largely succeeds in creating an ethereal, dreamlike mood throughout. As such, however, the degree to which readers ultimately will embrace the novel depends upon their willingness to engage in a "willing suspension of disbelief." Those possessed of any significant degree of skepticism regarding the actual nature of political struggle, small group social psychology, and human behavior generally will find much about which to be dubious, beginning with the notion that ALL of the guerrillas would be mesmerized by Roxanne Coss' operatic singing. They also will look askance at the romantic interludes portrayed here, including the prospect of romance between a superstar American singer and a staid Japanese businessman. Furthermore, the lack of substantive political content is striking and to me, disappointing.
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45 of 47 people found the following review helpful
"Bel Canto" is a style of operatic singing characterized by full, even tones and a brilliant display of vocal technique. It is also a whimsical and entertaining novel by Ann Patchett. The book takes place in an unnamed country in South America. A birthday party has been arranged for a prominent Japanese businessman named Mr. Hosokawa. The only reason that Mr. Hosokawa has agreed to come to this party in his honor is that Roxanne Coss, a world famous soprano, is there to sing for the assembled guests. Ms. Coss does sing brilliantly and all seems to be going well. Unfortunately, the party turns sour quickly when a band of revolutionaries breaks into the house and holds the guests hostage.

Patchett, in a display of literary virtuosity, brings the characters in "Bel Canto" to brilliant life. With wit, humor and pathos, the author shows how living in close quarters with strangers sometimes brings out the best in people. Mr. Hosokawa, who is usually a businesslike automaton, blossoms into a sensitive and caring individual under the influence of Roxanne and her lovely music. Gen Watanable, who is Hosokawa's translator and secretary, falls in love with one of the female revolutionaries, and his life also takes off in unexpected directions.

Patchett touches on many themes in "Bel Canto," such as the power of glorious music to touch our souls and the importance of seeking beauty and romance in our lives. Since the world we live in is sometimes a barbaric place, it is not always possible for peace and love to flourish. Therefore, Patchett seems to be saying, it is vital to seize those rare moments in our lives when we can enjoy everything that is wonderful and amazing around us. "Bel Canto" is marred by a pace that is a bit too leisurely and by a somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
2.0 out of 5 stars I don't get it
I could not get into this book. I forced myself to finish it. liked the last 1/10 of it. But had to work hard to get there. Do not get why this book was popular.
Published 1 day ago by alicia shepard
5.0 out of 5 stars thoroughly enjoyed reading it
What an interesting book on love. I really enjoyed and bought it as a gift and recommended it to others as it had been recommended to me.
Published 5 days ago by B. J. Morris
4.0 out of 5 stars Four Stars
Great read, lots of interesting characters and dynamics.
Published 7 days ago by Jane Wolsey
3.0 out of 5 stars The hostages
I thought the book was well written but it seemed to go on for too long. A good story but could have been much shorter. The ending, though predictable, did not seem realistic.
Published 8 days ago by Aryeh Weiss
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Nice character development but disappointed in the end.
Published 8 days ago by Lynn Henry
5.0 out of 5 stars Couldn't put it down!
Fascinating character and story development.
Published 8 days ago by Merrilee Alvey
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Well written, but such a slow moving story...
Published 8 days ago by deborah shin
5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended it for our Book Club and read it again ...
Recommended it for our Book Club and read it again for the third time. Love it and am constantly recommending it.
Published 8 days ago by Lillian Dartnall
4.0 out of 5 stars I liked discovering how the characters developed and established...
I thought the prose was lyrical and the story kept me engaged. I liked discovering how the characters developed and established relationships with one another throughout their... Read more
Published 9 days ago by Caitlin T.
5.0 out of 5 stars Love hurts
A wealthy Japanese industrialist is enticed to attend a birthday party celebration hosted by the government of an impoverished South American country by the promise of a... Read more
Published 18 days ago by Len Joy
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More About the Author

Ann Patchett was born in Los Angeles in 1963 and raised in Nashville. She attended Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop. In 1990, she won a residential fellowship to the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Massachusetts, where she wrote her first novel, The Patron Saint of Liars. It was named a New York Times Notable Book for 1992. In 1993, she received a Bunting Fellowship from the Mary Ingrahm Bunting Institute at Radcliffe College. Patchett's second novel, Taft, was awarded the Janet Heidinger Kafka Prize for the best work of fiction in 1994. Her third novel, The Magician's Assistant, was short-listed for England's Orange Prize and earned her a Guggenheim Fellowship.Her next novel, Bel Canto, won both the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Orange Prize in 2002, and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. It was named the Book Sense Book of the Year. It sold more than a million copies in the United States and has been translated into thirty languages. In 2004, Patchett published Truth & Beauty, a memoir of her friendship with the writer Lucy Grealy. It was named one of the Best Books of the Year by the Chicago Tribune, the San Francisco Chronicle, and Entertainment Weekly. Truth & Beauty was also a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Chicago Tribune's Heartland Prize, the Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Alex Award from the American Library Association. She was also the editor of Best American Short Stories 2006.Patchett has written for numerous publications, including the New York Times magazine, Harper's, The Atlantic,The Washington Post, Gourmet, and Vogue. She lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Karl VanDevender.

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Topic From this Discussion
Gen and Roxanne.
It makes sense to me. They represented the hostage experience to each other and those they fell in love with together. They needed to fill the emptiness left by the 4 and a half months and those that died.

I did want to know what happened to Kato.
Feb 20, 2007 by Melissa Bowman |  See all 13 posts
Bel Canto
I listened to this first on tape, and have nearly finished reading it, a couple of years later, for book group. It is the most extraordinary book, haunting and dreamlike, that sucks you in. You are there with the hostages, the real world seems very remote.

I'm interested to read your comments... Read More
Jun 2, 2007 by Ms. K. E. Glaisher |  See all 5 posts
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