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Bel Canto Paperback – April 16, 2002

3.9 out of 5 stars 1,435 customer reviews

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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 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 318 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 1, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060934417
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060934415
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,435 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,519,064 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By J. Marren on May 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
"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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Format: Paperback
"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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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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